Preview: Ulster v Connacht

Date published: March 31 2016

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has named Rory Best, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne in his side that will take on Connacht on Friday.

Due to injury and the return of the international players there are five changes to the starting team that faced Glasgow last weekend.

Rob Herring makes way for captain Best who returns to the front-row following Ireland's Six Nations campaign. Callum Black retains his position at loosehead, as does Ricky Lutton at tighthead.

Pete Browne replaces the injured Alan O'Connor in the second-row, partnering Franco van der Merwe. Iain Henderson will make his first home appearance since December in the back-row, and is joined by Chris Henry and Roger Wilson, who steps in for the injured Nick Williams.

Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar continue their half-back partnership.

Payne and Trimble are back to full fitness and they replace Stuart Olding and Rory Scholes.

Stuart McCloskey continues to partner Luke Marshall in the midfield.

Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding and Darren Cave will provide backline cover. Herring, Kyle McCall, Bronson Ross, Robbie Diack and Sean Reidy are named as the forward replacements.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made seven personnel changes to the team that defeated Leinster five days ago.

In the absence of Tiernan O'Halloran who suffered a quad injury in training this week, Robbie Henshaw will line out at full-back with the midfield partnership of Bundee Aki and the Academy's Peter Robb retained.

Shane O'Leary is handed the reins at fly-half for his first PRO12 start while scrum-half John Cooney, on his return from injury, takes over from Kieran Marmion who is also sidelined this week with a minor quad injury.

Up front, Rodney Ah You comes in for the injured Nathan White while Andrew Browne forms a new second-row partnership with Aly Muldowney. Captain John Muldoon shifts to blindside flanker in a back-row with Academy player James Connolly and last week's man of the match Eoin McKeon.

Ireland international Ultan Dillane comes on to the bench for his first Connacht game since his involvement in the Six Nations. Also included among the replacements is utility back Cormac Brennan from the Connacht Academy. This is the first matchday involvement for the 21-year-old who plays his club rugby with Galwegians RFC.

“Our squad depth is strong in all positions except 10 and 15 so to lose AJ (MacGinty) to injury, have Shane (O'Leary) go down with sickness at the start of a short week and then have Tiernan (O'Halloran) and Kieran (Marmion) drop out with injuries at kicking practise, it is a challenge to say the least," said Lam.

"However once again I believe it is an opportunity for us to strengthen our resolve and continue to rely on our team systems and work ethic. 

"History and the short turnaround is certainly against us for the massive physical challenge that awaits us from Ulster, but we go there knowing that focussing on the quality of our team performance will give us the best chance of getting the points on offer."

Form: Ulster’s only victory in their last four PRO12 fixtures was 32-0 against Zebre in Belfast in Round 17. Ulster’s two home defeats in the PRO12 this season were by a margin of only two points to Munster in Round 11 and just one point against Scarlets in Round 15. Connacht are in the midst of their best ever sequence of victories in the PRO12, having won their last six matches since their 19-21 reversal at Scarlets in Round 12. Connacht have won their last three away games, all with maximum points. Ulster’s only defeat in their last 19 encounters with Connacht since 2005 was 21-26 in Galway in April 2012, whilst Connacht’s most recent victory in Belfast came in November 1960 in the Interprovincial Championship.

The teams:

Ulster:  15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Stuart Olding, 23 Darren Cave

Connacht:  15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Peter Robb, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Shane O'Leary, 9 John Cooney, 8 Eoin McKeon, 7 James Connolly, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Andrew Browne, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Sean O'Brien, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Cormac Brennan, 23 Danie Poolman

Date: Fiday, April 1
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local, (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Nigel Correll (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)