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Preview: Connacht v Ulster

20th September 2013 10:21

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Craig Clarke Chiefs SR 2012

Craig Clarke: Will make his debut for Connacht

Connacht coach Pat Lam has made three changes to his starting XV for Saturday's clash with Ulster at the Sportsground.

New signing Craig Clarke will make his debut in the second row for the first derby clash of the season with provincial rivals Ulster.

The 30-year-old lock, who captained the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Rugby titles, will start alongside skipper Michael Swift.

Clarke's fellow New Zealander Jake Heenan will also make his first start for Connacht. The 21-year-old former Baby Blacks captain comes into the back row at number six as John Muldoon moves to number eight.

There is just one change to the backs with Fionn Carr, who missed last week's game against Cardiff, returning to right wing.

Speaking about the team selection and the upcoming fixture Lam said: "It's a big boost for the team to have Craig available to start. It's been a frustrating time for him with injury but he came through the week well and is raring to go.

"Jake made a big impact coming off the bench in the last two games and his selection gives us an energetic back row.

"Fionn trained well this week and returns to the wing.

"We're all really looking forward to the first interprovincial game where both the teams and supporters will bring a lot of passion to the Sportsground."

Meanwhile, Ulster boss Mark Anscombe has made three changes to the team that lost narrowly to Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill last Friday.

All of the changes are in the pack where Tom Court replaces Callum Black at loosehead, Iain Henderson is named in the second-row in place of Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry is selected at openside flanker instead of Sean Doyle.

Ireland winger, Craig Gilroy, is named as a substitute and is in line to make his first appearance of the season, having recovered from the groin injury that has kept him out of rugby since April.

Commenting on his selection, Mark Anscombe said: "It is great to be able to welcome players like Tom, Iain and Chris back in. They are all Ireland internationals and their experience will be important for us this weekend against a very capable Connacht side.

"We were disappointed last weekend. However, we created more opportunities against Glasgow last Friday night than we did in four matches against them last season - we just didn't take them. We need to be more clinical and we know that.

"This week we have trained well - the attitude has been really good and we are looking forward to this interprovincial match."

Form: Connacht's only win in their last five RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures was 25-16 at home to Zebre in Round 1 of the new season. Connacht have been defeated in their last five encounters with fellow Irish Provinces. Ulster have lost their last three PRO12 games but have not lost four in a row in the competition since October 2011. The Ulstermen have only once before begun a season with three straight defeats - in 2008/09. Connacht's solo victory over Ulster in their last 14 contests since 2005 was 26-21 in Galway in April 2012.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Gavin Duffy, 14 Fionn Carr, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Jake Heenan, 5 Craig Clarke, 4 Michael Swift (c), 3 Nathan White, 2 Jason Harris-Wright, 1 Brett Wilkinson.
Replacements: 16 Sean Henry, 17 Rodney Ah You, 18 Ronan Loughney, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Paul O'Donohoe, 22 Craig Ronaldson, 23 Danie Poolman.

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 David McIlwaine, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ian Porter, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Roger Wilson, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 James McKinney, 23 Craig Gilroy.

Date: Saturday, September 21
Kick-off: 18:45 BST
Venue: The Sportsground
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Kieran Barry (Ireland), John Carvill (Ireland)
Television match official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)

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