Director of Rugby Les Kiss believes Ulster have a target on their back as they prepare for an interprovincial showdown with reigning Guinness PRO12 champions Connacht.
Ulster, set to welcome wing Tommy Bowe back into their starting XV for the first time in six months, sit top of the Guinness PRO12 table with five wins from five.
History would suggest their 100 per cent record will remain intact by the end of the weekend, with Connacht having only beaten Ulster three times in their 26 Guinness PRO12 encounters.
But Kiss – without Charles Piutau and Franco van der Merwe through injury, while Ruan Pienaar has been rested – is wary of the challenge.
“We’re the scalp they want,” said Kiss.
“They haven’t beaten us yet, in their own words.
“We know we’re going into a real coliseum there.
“It’s going to be tough all the way, it’s not going to be easy, but it will set us up for Europe.”
Pat Lam’s champions got off and running for the season last time out with a 28-15 defeat of Edinburgh.
However, Connacht have been hit by a spate of injuries this week that will mean six changes to the team that takes to the field at the Sportsground.
Matt Healy, Tom McCartney, Quinn Roux and Denis Buckley are all injured while Peter Robb and Kieran Marmion failed fitness tests on Thursday.
But Lam insists his much-changed team will still be ready for the challenge.
“Despite all the different disruptions, we are all really excited by the challenge we face at home against Ulster,” said Lam.
“Ulster are a well-coached side with quality players across the park. We know they will come here full of confidence after the start that they’ve had and will be targeting this game to continue their impressive run.
“As long as we continue our day-to-day improvement in team performance, we will give ourselves a chance to get the points on offer.”
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 26, Connacht won 3, Ulster won 22 and 1 game drawn.
At The Sportsground, 7.35pm. Live on TG4 and BBC SPORT NI
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU, 24th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Leo Colgan (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Wayne Sheridan (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Defending Guinness PRO12 champions Connacht produced a stellar performance to down league leaders Ulster 30-25 as Cian Kelleher bagged a double.
Kelleher scored twice, while Jack Carty and James Connolly also touched down for Connacht as they continued their recent resurgence following a slow start to the new campaign.
Connacht started like an express train, desperate to dispel a poor record against Ulster that has seen them win just three of their last 26 encounters against their Irish compatriots.
Carty waltzed through under the post after only three minutes for the game’s opening score after Connacht had put together multiple phases in the Ulster 22 following a smart break from hooker Dave Heffernan. Carty also added the extras off the tee.
Ulster, who welcomed wing Tommy Bowe back into their starting XV for the first time in six months, sat top of the Guinness PRO12 table with five wins from five before kick-off but the opening exchanges were even.
And the visitors dragged themselves back into contention minutes later as Paddy Jackson slotted over a simple penalty to make the score 7-3.
Pat Lam’s champions, who have been hit by a spate of injuries this week, got off and running for the season last time out with a 28-15 defeat of Edinburgh and the win seemed to buoy Connacht as they dominated the opening exchanges against Ulster.
And things got even better for Connacht on 23 minutes as Kelleher finished off a flowing team move to score his side’s try of the game, producing a smart sidestep to finish things off. Carty this time struck the woodwork with his conversion in a swirling wind to leave the score at 12-3.
Straight from the restart Connacht strung together multiple phases again, resulting in replacement Connolly powering his way over for his side’s third score of the night after missed tackles saw the home side go from one end to the other.
After a difficult start to their PROI2 title defence, Connacht finally seemed to finally find their form of last season and Carty added to the strong start by adding the conversion to make the score 19-3.
Ulster were handed a lifeline on 32 minutes as Conor Carey was sin-binned for side entry from a driving maul as Connacht attempted to fend off heavy pressure from the visitors.
The numerical advantage eventually paid off as Craig Gilroy ran in for a try uncontested score out wide, cashing in on continued Ulster pressure – Jackson missed the resulting conversion.
Carty added a crucial score on 38 minutes to take the score back to 22-8 as he held his nerve to land a much-needed penalty.
Ulster looked a complete different side after the break and scored two quick tries in just a matter of minutes to turn the game on its head.
First hooker Rory Best burrowed his way over from close range, with Jackson adding the extras, before Bowe created a score for stand-in skipper Jared Payne to run in under the posts, with again the Ulster No.10 converting to leave the scores all square at 22-22.
Connacht refused to roll over though and Kelleher scored his second try of the night on 52 minutes to edge his side in front, scoring out wide after another flowing team move.
While Carty, who missed the conversion after Kelleher’s score, edged Connacht further in front with a penalty to make the score 30-22 soon after.
Jackson reduced the score to 30-25 with a well struck penalty on 65 minutes, while the Ulster fly-half thought he had darted over for a try minutes later but was penalised for accidental offside.
Ross Kane was sin-binned late in the game for Ulster as their challenge to win the game faltered late on.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
08 Oct 2016
06 Oct 2016
06 Oct 2016
04 Oct 2016