Ulster v Connacht
Guinness Pro14, Round 6
Kingspan Stadium, Ravenhill, Belfast @7:35pm, Friday 5th October 2018
Positions: Ulster (3rd in Conference B – 15pts) Connacht (5th in Conference A – 11pts)
Both sides face a six-day turn around after last Saturday’s set of Interpro’s. Ulster suffered a record 64-7 mauling from Munster in Thomond Park. The margin was a shock, but the result was no great surprise given the length of Ulster’s injury list and the fact that the squad had little recovery and preparation time after a two-game tour of South Africa. Ulster will welcome back a host of front-line players for this encounter. Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale will make their first appearances of the season after recovering from their respective injuries. Marcell Coetzee’s return from injury strengthens their back row, while Stuart McCloskey returns to the centre.
Connacht make four changes from the side that endured a tough home defeat against an impressive Leinster team who learn their lessons after last years mauling, and showed the westerners a lot of respect by bringing their frontline players to the Sportsground. Leinster wore Connacht into submission and came away with a 20-3 win. Some of Connacht’s attacking play was impressive and they built multiple phases and threated the Leinster line on a few occasions, but ultimately couldn’t find a way to breach it.
Andy Friends alterations are partially enforced. Gavin Thornbury went off early in the Leinster match, and Ultan Dillane will start at no.4 in his place. Captain Jarrad Butler returns to the back row after missing out through injury last time out. Paul Boyle comes in at no.8 after turning heads with his early season form. While Niyi Adeolokun starts on the wing ahead on Cian Kelleher.
On first viewing Connacht’s lowly position of 5th in Conference A would indicate similar inconsistent form to last season, however, the green shoots appear to be growing in the west as the performances in all but the away trip to Edinburgh have been good and the defeats can somewhat be explained by tough opening fixtures. Connacht have played three of last years four semi-finalists in the opening 5 rounds.
I expect both sides to play an expansive style of rugby, in what could be the more attractive game of the two InterPro’s to watch this weekend.
Ulster are 7/10 favourites to take the home win. Connacht are available at 8/5 to record their first win in Belfast in the professional era. The draw is available at 25/1. The handicap market sees Connacht offered a head start in a three-point spread.
For an in-depth preview of this game from a Connacht perspective check out the latest Craggy Rugby podcast here.