It’s that time of year again – the Inter-Pros are in full swing – with Connacht hoping to end their Belfast hoodoo with a win over Ulster.
Ulster are on the canvas after a 64-7 mauling by Munster, their biggest-ever defeat, but can once again rely on strong home form that has seen them lose once since last October.
Connacht, despite losing out 20-3 in their Inter-Pro clash with Guinness PRO14 champions Leinster, are showing signs of growing into new coach Andy Friend’s philosophy.
What’s at stake: The West Coast side have the chance to turn the tide of history on Friday night, resuscitating their ailing road record in the process.
Connacht haven’t been victorious in Belfast since November 1960, while their only victory away from home since April 2017 came in February against Benetton Treviso.
With both on the back of a defeat, getting back to winning ways would be a boon for either side with Ulster seeking to keep in touch with the top two in Conference B.
Team News (Ulster): Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale will make their first appearances of the season on Friday night, having recovered from injuries to make the starting XV.
Best, who returns to captain the side, has been ruled out with a hamstring injury since last season while Stockdale has been on the sidelines since August.
Stuart McCloskey comes in for the injured Darren Cave and further changes in the pack see Tom O’Toole and Marcell Coetzee introduced to the side.
Team News (Connacht): Captain Jarrad Butler has shaken off an injury to return to a starting XV that shows four changes from last weekend’s defeat to Ulster.
Academy product Paul Boyle joins Butler and Sean O’Brien in the back row, while in the front row Tom McCartney starts at hooker in place of the injured Dave Heffernan.
The other change sees Matt Healy come into the back three.
Looking ahead to the game, Connacht head coach Andy Friend said: “Both sides had tough games last weekend and will be trying to recover from the six day turnaround.
“We’ve received the last game and fine-tuned things from last weekend so we are ready to go for Friday.
“It’s great to have our captain back and one or two other guys who were returning from small knocks. We’re expecting a massive challenge from a real quality Ulster side.”
Key battle: Jacob Stockdale v Niyi Adeolokun
Stockdale’s return from an eight-week lay-off comes at the perfect time for Ulster, ahead of their first home interpro game of the season.
The 22-year-old enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, named Player of the Championship in the Six Nations but he last appeared for his province in their play-off win over Ospreys
His pace, if not power, will be matched by Adeolokun whose three tries in as many games against Zebre, Edinburgh and Scarlets served notice of his clinical edge.
Key fact: The last five matches between the two sides have been won by the home side on the day.
Did you know? Connacht’s three most recent victories in Guinness PRO14 have been since the end of April and all in Galway.
Ulster: Peter Nelson, Angus Kernohan, Angus Curtis, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, Marcell Coetzee
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Dave Shanahan, Johnny McPhillips, James Hume
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler, Paul Boyle
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Kyle Godwin, Cian Kelleher
TV: Live on Premier Sports, EIR Sport from 7.35pm
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant Referee: George Clancy, Sean Gallagher
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Wigglesworth
TMO: Olly Hodges
Connacht claimed their first win away from home in Guinness PRO14 since April 2017, beating 14-man Ulster 15-22 at the Kingspan.
The game hinged on a red card for Ulster’s Matthew Rea from the restart of the second-half, leaving the home side with an insurmountable task.
The Northern Irish side watched tries from Angus Kernohan and Peter Nelson be chalked off within five minutes of the first half as Connacht put on a clinical display of try-scoring.
Connacht, starved of an Irish inter-pro victory away from home having only secured one in the last 16 years, surged ahead with a try on six minutes.
A perfectly executed lineout saw their backline take the ball off the top and Matt Healy launch a penetrating run through the midfield, neatly setting up the onrushing O’Halloran.
Their early dominance extended to scrum time, as well, with four bullying set-pieces ending in referee Andrew Brace rushing under the posts and signalling a penalty try for 12-0.
Ulster suffered their biggest-ever defeat at Munster in Round 5 and would have feared the worst but Ireland star Jacob Stockdale helped them hit back on 24 minutes.
A turnover deep in Connacht territory set a platform for Billy Burns to attempt a raking cross-field kick that bounced over a defender and found Stockdale to dot down acrobatically.
The home side’s kicking game helped create countless chances and Angus Kernohan thought he’d drawn them closer to parity just before the half-hour.
His relieving kick from just outside the 22 foxed the Connacht defender and he touched down a further grubber kick, only for Stockdale to have been ruled offside from the initial punt.
The Northern Irishmen would be denied in similar fashion two minutes later, Peter Nelson breaking through to dot down before, again, being adjudged offside from Stockdale’s kick.
There was further drama to come as Ulster went down to 14 men and then 13 within a couple of seconds, either side of half-time.
In the last minute of the first half, Marcell Coetzee’s tackle slipped up to the neck for the second time and the referee issued a yellow card.
Within 10 seconds of the restart, Cian Kelleher jack-knifed over the shoulder of Matthew Rea and the lock was red-carded.
The second half was a somewhat more sedate affair, with Ulster scrum-half John Cooney keeping his team in touch with a penalty after Connacht were pinged for not rolling away.
But the man advantage proved too stiff to overhaul as Aki intercepted and ripped the ball in the midfield and surged across the whitewash from 40 metres out.
Nick Timoney converted from long range in the closing moments and John Cooney converted to make a draw possible on the final play, but it was to be Ulster’s night.
04 Oct 2018
04 Oct 2018