Ulster and Connacht will go head-to-head in the quarterfinals of the United Rugby Championship (URC) at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
This is set to be a thrilling encounter between two Irish provinces who will be fighting for a place in the semi-finals.
Player of the season for Connacht looks a two horse race. Who gets your vote?
Niall Murray – 15 Games – 2 Tries – 47 Carries – 120 Tackles – 107 Metres gained – 16 Line-out steals
Caolin Blade – 15 Games – 11 Tries – 76 Carries – 38 Tackles – 338 metres gained.
— Joe Naughton (@JoeNaConnacht) May 3, 2023
ULSTER v CONNACHT
- John Cooney made more retained kicks than any other player in Round 18 (four). He also scored the second-most points (18), including a try
- Round 18 was the first round since Round 14 that Tom Stewart didn’t score a try. His record-breaking total of 16 continues to lead the league
- Ulster have scored more maul tries (16) and made more maul metres (467) than any other team
- Excluding metres from kick return, Tom Farrell has made more running metres than any other player (606). Teammate Jack Carty has made 3,297 more kicking metres than any other player, a total of 6,795
- Conor Oliver is the league’s leading tackler, having made 215. His success rate this season is 91%
- Niall Murray has made seven more lineout steals than any other player (16) – more than three BKT URC teams
Ulster’s impressive form
Ulster come into the match with an impressive record of winning their last five URC fixtures since their defeat to Glasgow in Round 14. They will be hoping to continue their winning streak and maintain their unbeaten record at Kingspan Stadium since New Year’s Day. Furthermore, Ulster have never lost a URC play-off game in Belfast, which gives them added confidence heading into the match.
This Friday night…
🎟️ https://t.co/AEppY8Wiux pic.twitter.com/kmjTo2XrBL
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) May 2, 2023
Connacht’s mixed form
Connacht, on the other hand, have had mixed form in the URC this season, they started very slow but had a six-game winning run, which came to an end with their defeat to Glasgow in Round 18. However, Connacht will be looking to turn their form around and put up a strong performance against Ulster.
"We've shown the character and belief that's there to find ourselves exactly where we want to be"
Andy Friend on the journey to the @URCOfficial play-offs 🏉#ConnachtRugby | Let's bring the green to Kingspan Stadium so get your ticket here 🎟️ https://t.co/33d1jB1CZa pic.twitter.com/ygclnDpect
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) May 3, 2023
Recent head-to-head encounters
Ulster have won their last three fixtures against Connacht, but Connacht’s most recent victory at Kingspan Stadium was in the Rainbow Cup in May 2021. Connacht’s only victory in their last ten fixtures against fellow Irish provinces in all competitions was at home to Munster in the URC last October.
Key players to watch
For Ulster, Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, and Ian Madigan have been in great form and will be looking to make an impact in the match. Meanwhile, Tom Daly, Jack Carty, and John Porch will be the ones to watch for Connacht.
TEAM NEWS HEADLINES
- Jacob Stockdale makes his 100th Ulster appearance while Rob Herring equals the all-time appearance record on 299 caps
- Dave Heffernan named in Connacht starting XV as he returns from injury with Bundee Aki and Mack Hansen also named as they return from illness
FRIDAY, MAY 5
Ulster v Connacht
Kingspan Stadium, Belfast – KO 19.35 IRE & UK / 20.35 ITA & SA
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 88th league game)
AR 1: Frank Murphy (IRFU) AR 2: Eoghan Cross (IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)
Live on: Viaplay, TG4, Premier Sports, SuperSport, Discovery +, FloRugby.com & URC.tv
Ulster: Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Rory Sutherland, Rob Herring, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Alan O’Connor (CAPT), Kieran Treadwell, Dave McCann, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen
Replacements: Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Gareth Milasinovich, Sam Carter, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Mack Hansen, Jack Carty (CAPT), Caolin Blade, Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham, Josh Murphy, Niall Murray, Shamus Hurley-Langton, Conor Oliver, Cian Prendergast
Replacements: Dylan Tierney-Martin, Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier, Oisín Dowling, Jarrad Butler, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Byron Ralston
Ulster Head Coach Dan McFarland said: “They will come hungry. It’s do or die in play-offs and we expect an extremely physical, intense side coming to play against us.”
Connacht Director of Rugby Andy Friend said: “Tomorrow is the culmination of months of hard work. We were very clear at the start of the season that we wanted to be playing playoff football, and now that we’re here we plan on making the most of it. Beating Ulster in Belfast is a tough task for any team, but we’re confident in our abilities and we’ve improved a lot since our last trip up there. I’ve heard there’s a huge crowd travelling up to support us which always gives us a boost, so I’m sure they’ll make their voices heard.”
Andy Brace will be the referee for the match, with Frank Murphy and Eoghan Cross assisting him. Brian MacNeice will be the TMO.
Summary and betting
Overall, this is set to be an exciting encounter between two Irish provinces with a lot at stake.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of the match, but both teams will be giving their all to secure a place in the semi-finals of the URC. Bookies expect Ulster to win by 10pts.