Preview: Ulster v Connacht

Date published: April 21 2011

Ulster will aim to get their Magners League play-off ambitions back on track against Connacht at Ravenhill on Saturday.

Ulster will look to get their Magners League play-off ambitions back on track when they face Connacht at Ravenhill on Saturday.

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named Jerry Cronin in a much-changed team to face Connacht in the Magners League on Friday at Ravenhill.

Cronin will make his full debut when he comes in at tighthead prop in place of BJ Botha who is ruled out with a medial ligament injury.

Ireland backs Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble are not available for the match after they each fractured a thumb against Leinster on Saturday.

This opens the way for Darren Cave to return to the starting XV after an impressive substitute appearance at the weekend. He will wear the number13 jersey with Nevin Spence switching to inside centre to accommodate him.

Johann Muller returns to the second row after missing the trip to Dublin with a dead leg, meaning Tim Barker has to settle for a place among the replacements.

Simon Danielli also comes back from injury to occupy the left wing spot so Craig Gilroy moves to the right wing position vacated by Trimble.

Willie Faloon will start at openside flanker, with Chris Henry moving to blindside and Robbie Diack dropping to the bench.

Adam Macklin is named on the bench too, and may taste his first action since breaking an ankle playing for the Ravens last September.

The defeat against Leinster means Ulster must now win their two remaining games to guarantee a semi-final spot.

Ulster and Connacht played out a 15-15 draw at the Sportsground in September but Mclaughlin will be hoping the Ravenhill factor will prove decisive as they have won their previous six home games in all competitions.

The Ulster coach is in a determined mood ahead of the game.

“We have to win the last two games, there's no doubt about that,” said Mclaughlin.

“At the minute we are not even thinking about the second one. The most important thing for us is to make sure that on Friday night at Ravenhill we get the result we need.”

Meanwhile, three Connacht Centurions make their return to the starting lineup.

Brett Wilkinson in the front row, Michael Swift in the second row and John Muldoon at eighthman help make up an experienced pack which boosts 842 Connacht caps between the front 8.

Swift is making his return following a hand injury which saw him miss Connacht's last 2 matches, he is partnered by former Junior All Black Bernie Upton in the second row with the versatile Mike McCarthy moving to blindside flanker.

Johnny O'Connor continues to captain the side at openside and John Muldoon makes his first full start at eightman since returning from a broken arm.

The backline remains largely unchanged from last week's game against Cardiff Blues with Frank Murphy joining Ian Keatley in the halfbacks.

Keatley is the Magners League second highest points scorer, just 19 points behind Ospreys Dan Biggar, and has landed 72 kicks at goal as well as scoring 2 trys this season.

New Zealand Barbarian Troy Nathan and former Samoan U21 Niva Ta'auso make up the centre pairing with Fionn Carr and homegrown talent Eoin Griffin joining Irish International Gavin Duffy in the back three.

Form: Ulster, whose loss to Leinster in Dublin last weekend dropped them out of a home semi-final slot, face another Irish Province, Connacht. With only three points separating the second to fourth placed teams, and with Blues having a game in hand over them, any loss of points at this stage could be crucial for Ulster's play-off ambitions.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Adam D'Arcy, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Nevin Spence, 11 Simon Danielli, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Willie Fallon, 6 Chris Henry, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller 3 Jerry Cronin, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Paddy McAllister
Replacements: 16 Andy Kyriacou, 17 Bryan Young, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Tim Barker, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Whitten, 23 C Gaston.

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Eoin Griffin, 13 Niva Ta'auso, 12 Troy Nathan, 11 Fionn Carr, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Frank Murphy, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Johnny O'Connor (c), 6 Mike McCarthy, 5 Bernie Upton, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Brett Wilkinson
Replacements: 16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Andrew Browne, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Tiernan O'Halloran

Date: Friday, April 22
Venue: Ravenhill
Kick-off: 19.05 BST
Referee: JP Doyle