Preview: Connacht v Ulster

Date published: April 10 2015

Ireland trio Rory Best, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne have all been named in the Ulster team to face Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday.

They are three of thirteen Ireland internationals named in the squad for the interprovincial clash, the first of three in a row for Ulster.

Best returns to captain the side at hooker, with Payne named at outside centre and Bowe selected on the right wing.

Bowe is joined in the back three by Louis Ludik and the Pro12's leading try scorer, Craig Gilroy.

Darren Cave partners Payne in the centre with Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar continuing in the half-backs.

Up front, Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst start either side of Best with Dan Tuohy and Franco van der Merwe selected in the second-row.

Roger Wilson returns to the side at number eight with Iain Henderson picked at blindside and Chris Henry at openside in what will be his first start since recovering from heart surgery.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Pat Lam has made three personnel changes to the team named last week.

As Bundee Aki makes a welcome return in midfield, there is shift in the backline as Robbie Henshaw, Danie Poolman and Tiernan O'Halloran all move out one place.

Craig Ronaldson has been handed the reins at fly-half for his eleventh start this season.

Up front, George Naoupu represents the only change to the pack and comes in at number eight to allow captain John Muldoon to revert to blindside flanker.

The Galway-born duo of Ronan Loughney and Eoin McKeon have both returned from injury to take a place on the bench while Ultan Dillane, John Cooney and Miah Nikora are also additions to the matchday squad.

"We have no doubt that Saturday will be a massive challenge against a quality Ulster side who have been up near the top of the table for the whole season. With their Six Nations stars back they’ll be coming here all guns blazing as they vie for a home semi-final," said Lam.

"But we are back on our Sportsground for the first time in six weeks and we're in a really exciting place in the league. We have put ourselves in a position where we still have so much to play for at this time of the season. A top six finish is still very much in our hands. These are the types of pressure games that you want this young group of players to be playing in and we know we need to put in a big team performance tomorrow."

Form: Connacht have slipped to three successive defeats in all tournaments, with all encounters being played away from home. Connacht have lost just once in the Guinness PRO12 at the Sportsground this season: 13-16 to Edinburgh on 9th January. Ulster’s only defeat in their last six PRO12 fixtures was 22-26 against Dragons in Newport on 8th March. Ulster have won only one of their last four contests with fellow Irish provinces: 13-10 over Connacht in Belfast in round 11. Connacht’s solitary victory over Ulster in their last 17 matches since 2005 came in Galway in April 2012.

The teams:

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Danie Poolman, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Craig Ronaldson, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Eoghan Masterson, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Eoin McKeon, 21 John Cooney, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Darragh Leader.

Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Wiahahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Stuart McCloskey.

Date: Saturday, April 11
Venue: The Sportsground
Kick-off: 14:40 local (13:40 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, John Carvill
TMO: Jude Quinn