Tommy Bowe returns as Connacht and Ulster names strong starting XVs for derby clash
It promises to be a mouthwatering encounter at the Sportsground tomorrow night in Galway (kick-off 7.35pm).
Pro12 champions Connacht make six changes to the team that secured a bonus-point victory over Edinburgh last weekend, while Tommy Bowe makes his first start in almost six months.
Bowe played the last 20 minutes of Saturday's 9-7 victory over Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium, and Director of Rugby Les Kiss has rewarded him with a place on the right wing this week.
Charles Piutau and Franco van der Merwe are ruled out following injuries picked up against the Ospreys so both will sit out this week along with Ruan Pienaar who is rested as Kiss continues to manage his playing resources during an intense schedule that will see Ulster play back-to-back European Champions Cup fixtures over the next two weekends.
Bowe will be joined in the back three by Craig Gilroy and Jared Payne, who will captain the side from full-back. Darren Cave retains his place at inside centre where he will be joined in the midfield by Louis Ludik, who is enjoying a fantastic run of form this season to date.
Paddy Jackson, who kicked all of Ulster's points last weekend, including the last minute penalty to win the game, will once again be joined by Paul Marshall at half-back.
Up front, Callum Black comes into the front row alongside Rory Best and Rodney Ah You. Robbie Diack and Pete Browne will start together in the second row, while Clive Ross comes in at openside flanker to partner Iain Henderson and Roger Wilson in the back row.
Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell and Sean Reidy will provide the replacement forward cover, while Dave Shanahan, Brett Herron and Rob Lyttle will cover the backline options from the bench.
For Connacht, last week’s try scorer Cian Kelleher will start on the left wing in place of the injured Matt Healy. Peter Robb and Kieran Marmion both failed a late fitness test prior to the captains run today having picked up knocks in the last round. At inside centre, Craig Ronaldson will now make his first appearance of the season following his return from long-term injury while Caolin Blade starts at scrum half.
Up front, hooker Dave Heffernan has been handed his first start of the season in the absence of the injured Tom McCartney. With Denis Buckley ruled out, returning Ireland international Finlay Bealham comes in at loosehead while Conor Carey remains at tighthead after having made his debut against Edinburgh last week.
Galway man Andrew Browne returns from injury to make his first appearance of the season and partners Ultan Dillane in the second row. Quinn Roux is unavailable this week having picked up a knock while training with Ireland earlier in the week.
Changes to the replacements bench see Shane Delahunt in line to make his season debut while uncapped, Academy scrum half Steven Kerins and new arrival and utility back Stacey Ili have been named in their first match day squads.
20-year-old Kerins, from Sligo, has been training with the senior squad since pre-season having impressed with the Ireland U20’s side in June’s World Rugby U20 Championship.
Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, Pat Lam said: “We’ve been hit with a good few injuries to our senior squad this week, and have had to make changes to the side as late as this morning. Despite all the different disruptions, we are all really excited by the challenge we face at home against Ulster.
“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.”