Preview: Ulster v Connacht

Date published: November 4 2011

All Blacks prop John Afoa will go straight into the starting line-up for Ulster's RaboDirect PRO12 tie against Connacht on Saturday.

All Blacks prop John Afoa will go straight into the starting line-up for Ulster's RaboDirect PRO12 tie against Connacht on Saturday.

The New Zealand World Cup winner arrived in Belfast on Wednesday and will make his debut at tighthead in place of Declan Fitzpatrick.

The 28-year-old former Blues front-rower made two appearances as the All Blacks went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup two weeks ago.

Hooker Rory Best and blindside flank Stephen Ferris will make their first starts for Ulster this season after being rested following their exertions at the World Cup with Ireland.

Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar picked up a hamstring injury in training this week and is likely to be out for 4-6 weeks.

He made his first appearance of the season against the Scarlets on Saturday, having been on World Cup duty with South Africa.

Paul Marshall, who started the opening six games of the competition, will replace Pienaar in the number nine jersey, with Ian Porter taking his position on the bench.

This week Darren Cave gets a chance to partner Paddy Wallace in midfield, with Nevin Spence named among the replacements.

The back three of Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble and Simon Danielli remains unchanged from last weekend.

Best and Afoa are joined by Tom Court to make up an all-International front row, while lock Johann Muller will continue as captain. Ferris' inclusion will see Pedrie Wannenburg move to number eight, with Chris Henry starting at openside flanker.

Connacht have only beaten Ulster once in the past eight seasons and have not won in Belfast since 1960. Even so, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin is not taking anything for granted:

“They have a settled team and have started the season very well,” he said.

“Three wins and three losing bonus points suggests that they are going to be very difficult opposition, but we know that already. They are quick starters so we will have to be ready at the off to ensure we come away on Saturday with the win.”

Meanwhile, Connacht sees six changes to last week's team – two in the pack and four in the backline.

Eoghan Grace will earn his first cap for Connacht when he lines out at openside flanker while TJ Anderson returns to face his former team at blindside.

The 24-year-old has featured in five of Connacht's games so far this season, including their victory over the Dragons at the Sportsground.

There is a new half-back pairing of Paul O'Donohoe and Miah Nikora.

O'Donohoe has played in all bar one of Connacht's games this season and, along with Miah NIkora who made his comeback from injury last weekend, will make their first starts in the RaboDirect PRO12 on Saturday.

Dave McSharry partners captain Gavin Duffy in the midfield. McSharry earns his firstst full cap having impressed selectors when he came off the bench against Leinster.

Fetu'u Vainikolo and Brian Tuohy line up on the wings while the versatile Tiernan O'Halloran moves to full-back where he shone for Ireland at the Junior World Cup in Italy earlier this year.

Form: Ulster have slipped to four successive RaboDirect PRO12 defeats since they beat Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill on 16 September. The Ulstermen's nine game home winning run ended last time out at Ravenhill with the visit of Treviso. Ulster have won just one of their last seven encounters with fellow Irish provinces. Connacht have lost their last three RaboDirect PRO12 matches and have won only once on the road in the competition since September 2010: 11-9 at Treviso on 3 September 2011. Connacht's solitary victory in their last 16 matches against fellow Irish provinces was 27-13 over Leinster at the Sportsground on 21 April 2010. Connacht have won just once away from home in Ireland in the history of this competition: 26-23 against Leinster at Donnybrook in September 2002. Connacht's only win over Ulster since 2003 was 22-12 in Galway on New Year's Eve 2005, whilst Connacht have not won in Belfast since 1960.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Simon Danielli, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Andi Kyriacou, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Ian Porter, 22 Nevin Spence, 23 Adam D'Arcy.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Gavin Duffy (c), 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Brian Tuohy, 10 Miah Nikora, 9 Paul O'Donohoe, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Eoghan Grace, 6 TJ Anderson, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Dylan Rogers, 19 Dave Gannon, 20 John Muldoon, 21 Frank Murphy, 22 Niall O'Connor, 23 Matthew Jarvis.

Date: Saturday, 5 November
Venue: Ravenhill
Kick-off: 17:35 GMT
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Paul Haycock (Ireland), Brian Macneice (Ireland)
Television match official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)