Team news for Ulster-Connacht derby: Ireland partners Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne clash
Published 10/04/2015 | 12:56
Ireland centre partners Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will both be at 13 when Connacht and Ulster meet at the Sportsground (kick-off 2.40pm).
Pat Lam has made three changes to the side that was beaten at Kingsholm in the Challenge Cup quarter-final last week.
As Bundee Aki makes a welcome return in midfield, there is shift in the back line as Robbie Henshaw, Danie Poolman and Tiernan O’Halloran all move out one place.
Craig Ronaldson has been handed the reins at outhalf for his 11th start this season.
Up front, George Naoupu represents the only change to the pack and comes in at Number 8 to allow captain John Muldoon to revert to blindside flanker.
The Galway-born duo of Ronan Loughney and Eoin McKeon have both returned from injury to take a place on the bench while Ultan Dillane, John Cooney and Miah Nikora are also additions to the match day squad.
Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, Pat Lam said: “We have no doubt that Saturday will be a massive challenge against a quality Ulster side who have been up near the top of the table for the whole season. With their 6 Nations stars back they’ll be coming here all guns blazing as they vie for a home semi-final.
“But we are back on our Sportsground for the first time in six weeks and we’re in a really exciting place in the league. We have put ourselves in a position where we still have so much to play for at this time of the season. A top six finish is still very much in our hands. These are the types of pressure games that you want this young group of players to be playing in and we know we need to put in a big team performance tomorrow.”
Connacht: (15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy, Craig Ronaldson, Kieran Marmion; (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You, Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney, John Muldoon (c), Eoghan Masterson, George Naoupu.
Replacements: (16-23) Shane Delahunt, Ronan Loughney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Eoin McKeon, John Cooney, Miah Nikora, Darragh Leader.
Best returns to captain the side at hooker, with Jared Payne named at outside centre and Tommy Bowe selected on the right wing.
Bowe is joined in the back-three by Louis Ludik and the PRO12's leading try scorer so far this season, Craig Gilroy. Darren Cave partners Payne in the centre with Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar continuing together at half-back.
Up front, Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst start either side of Best with Dan Tuohy and Franco van der Merwe selected in the second row.
Roger Wilson returns to the starting line-up at number 8 with Iain Henderson picked at blindside flanker and Chris Henry (pictured above) at openside in what will be his first start since recovering from heart surgery.
Forwards Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Bronson Ross, Robbie Diack and Clive Ross join backs Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys and Stuart McCloskey on the replacements bench.
Ulster: (15-9) Louis Ludik; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; (1-8) Callum Black, Rory Best (capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Bronson Ross, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Stuart McCloskey.