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Rainbow Cup Rugby, Connacht best Ulster with an 85min TRY by Peter O’Sullivan after they called a captain challenge.
Ulster 24-26 Connacht Full Time
Connacht could have taken the draw with an easy penalty but after winning the captains challenge they went for the corner, they won the line out and threw the ball across the line, a lovely grubber kick into the corner by Conor Fitzgerald and Peter O’Sullivan got the TRY for a 2pt win.
Ulster narrowly missed out on the Guinness Pro14 final but should have plenty of confidence to take into their Rainbow Cup campaign.
Fourteen wins from their 16 matches were not quite enough to pip eventual champions Leinster to top spot in Conference A, while Connacht also claimed runners-up spot in their group but suffered eight defeats.
Connacht ended the Pro14 season with three straight defeats so will be keen to stop the rot but they were beaten 32-19 when these teams last met in December at The Sportsground, while Ulster will also take confidence from winning seven of their last eight home games in the Pro14.
The Ulster match-day squad to play Connacht in Friday’s opening round of the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup has been named (kick-off 8.15pm, Kingspan Stadium).
Iain Henderson makes his return to lead the side and will be partnered by Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead prop, with Tom O’Toole at tighthead and Rob Herring selected to start at hooker. In the back row, Matty Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Sean Reidy at openside, and Nick Timoney completing the pack at Number Eight.
Jacob Stockdale makes a positional switch to full-back, and will be joined by Ethan McIlroy and Robert Baloucoune in the back three. Stewart Moore will form the midfield partnership with James Hume, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are named as the starting half-backs.
Will Addison is set to make his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines as he is named among the Ulster back line replacements alongside David Shanahan and Michael Lowry. John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Greg Jones are the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Connacht Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 1, Friday 23 April at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.
Two changes come in the backs, where Caolin Blade is promoted to the number 9 shirt and Ben O’Donnell is named on the wing. The final change is in the front row where Jordan Duggan starts at loosehead.
Otherwise the team is as selected against Leicester in the Challenge Cup, with the experienced duo of Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham joining Duggan in the front row, a second row duo of Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury, and a back row consisting of flankers Eoghan Masterson and Conor Oliver, and captain Paul Boyle at number 8.
Jack Carty partners Blade at out-half, Tom Daly and Sean O’Brien continue their centre partnership, and winger Matt Healy and full-back John Porch form the back three with O’Donnell.
Commenting on the team selection, Head Coach Andy Friend says:
“There is still huge disappointment with our Challenge Cup exit and our last few performances, so this is a game where I’m fully expecting a reaction from the players. This is a new competition for us but as with competition we play in, we’re going out to win it. Our team selection reflects that and if we play the way I know we can, we’ll give ourselves a great chance of making a positive start to the Rainbow Cup.”
CONNACHT MATCHDAY 23 VS ULSTER RUGBY
Friday 23rd April, Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 8.15pm
15. John Porch (36)
14. Ben O’Donnell (4)
13. Sean O’Brien (Acad) (7)
12. Tom Daly (44)
11. Matt Healy (148)
10. Jack Carty (155)
9. Caolin Blade (127)
1. Jordan Duggan (11)
2. Dave Heffernan (140)
3. Finlay Bealham (155)
4. Ultan Dillane (110)
5. Gavin Thornbury (56)
6. Eoghan Masterson (107)
7. Conor Oliver (17)
8. Paul Boyle (55) (C)
16. Shane Delahunt (96)
17. Matthew Burke (20)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (63)
19. Niall Murray (13)
20. Abraham Papali’i (10)
21. Kieran Marmion (182)
22. Conor Fitzgerald (32)
23. Peter Sullivan (12)