Preview: Connacht v Ulster

Date published: October 6 2016

Tommy Bowe will make his first start in six months as Ulster travel to Galway on Friday to face Connacht in Round 6 of the PRO12.

Bowe played the last 20 minutes of Saturday's 9-7 victory over the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium, and director of rugby Les Kiss has rewarded him with a place on the right wing this week.

Charles Piutau and Franco van der Merwe are ruled out following injuries picked up against the Ospreys so both will sit out this week along with Ruan Pienaar, who is rested as Kiss continues to manage his playing resources during an intense schedule that will see Ulster play back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures over the next two weekends.

Bowe will be joined in the back three by Craig Gilroy and Jared Payne, who will captain the side from full-back. Darren Cave retains his place at inside centre where he will be joined in the midfield by Louis Ludik, who is enjoying a fantastic run of form this season to date.

Paddy Jackson, who kicked all of Ulster's points last weekend, including the last minute penalty to win the game, will once again be joined by Paul Marshall at half-back.

Up front, Callum Black comes into the front-row alongside Rory Best and Rodney Ah You. Robbie Diack and Pete Browne will start together in the second row, while Clive Ross comes in at openside flanker to partner Iain Henderson and Roger Wilson in the back-row.

Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell and Sean Reidy will provide the replacement forward cover, while Dave Shanahan, Brett Herron and Rob Lyttle will cover the backline options from the bench.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has had to make six changes from the side that secured a bonus-point victory over Edinburgh six days ago.

Last week’s try scorer Cian Kelleher will start on the left wing in place of the injured Matt Healy. Peter Robb and Kieran Marmion both failed a late fitness test prior to the captain's run on Thursday having picked up knocks in the last round.

At inside centre, Craig Ronaldson will now make his first appearance of the season following his return from long-term injury while Caolin Blade starts at scrum-half.

Up front, hooker Dave Heffernan has been handed his first start of the season in the absence of the injured Tom McCartney. With Denis Buckley ruled out, returning Ireland international Finlay Bealham comes in at loosehead while Conor Carey remains at tighthead after having made his debut against Edinburgh last week.

Galway man Andrew Browne returns from injury to make his first appearance of the season and partners Ultan Dillane in the second-row. Quinn Roux is unavailable this week having picked up a knock while training with Ireland earlier in the week.

Changes to the replacements bench see Shane Delahunt in line to make his season debut while uncapped, Academy scrum half Steven Kerins and new arrival and utility back Stacey Ili have been named in their first match day squads.

20-year-old Kerins, from Sligo, has been training with the senior squad since pre-season having impressed with the Ireland U20’s side in June’s World Rugby U20 Championship.

Form: Connacht earned the first league point of their 2016/17 Guinness PRO12 campaign courtesy of a bonus point victory over Edinburgh in Galway on Friday. The reigning champions finished last season with a won four lost three record against fellow Irish provinces in the Championship. Ulster Rugby maintained their perfect start to the new Guinness PRO12 campaign with a fifth successive victory, albeit a narrow one, over Ospreys in Belfast on Saturday. Ulster’s only defeat in their last five away games came in last season’s semi-final against Leinster at the RDS Arena. Connacht have beaten Ulster just once in their last twenty encounters: 26-21 at the Sportsground in April 2012.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Cian Kelleher, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Finlay Bealham
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 James Connolly, 21 Stephen Kerins, 22 Shane O’Leary, 23 Stacey Ili

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne (c), 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Clive Ross, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Pete Browne, 4 Robbie Diack, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rory Best, 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Rob Lyttle

Date: Friday, October 7
Venue: The Sportsground
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Leo Colgan (both IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)