Thursday 14 December 2017

Ireland's centres set for Pro12 battle at fullback in the match-up all fans wanted to see

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Ulster's home Pro12 clash with league leaders Connacht is a massive game for both sides but as well as the points at stake, there is a very interesting selection sub-plot for fans to follow.

Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne, who have been Joe Schmidt's Ireland centre partnership of choice when fit, have both been selected at fullback for their provinces, in a move that is an attacking statement of intent from Connacht and Ulster.

Ireland's centres have been heavily scrutinised in the post-O'Driscoll era, with the team struggling to find a 13 able to match the former Ireland captain's attacking majesty.

Payne has started regularly at outside centre in the last 18 months but many fans have been pleading with Schmidt to select him at fullback, a position where he has always attacked with more incision and verve.

Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss is obviously more open to the idea than his former national coaching colleague, opting for the New Zealander at fullback in a backline brimming with talent. Payne joins Andrew Trimble and Rory Best in returning to the side after last weekend's 27-17 loss to Glasgow, which leaves the northern province fifth in the Pro12 table.

Connacht will be riding high after eking out a 7-6 provincial derby win over Leinster, but they will have to deal with the absence of two internationals tomorrow night at Ravenhill.

Kieran Marmion and Nathan White picked up minor injuries last weekend and have been replaced by John Cooney and Rodney Ah You respectively. Pat Lam will also be delighted to welcome Ultan Dillane back to the squad after his destructive Six Nations cameos while Shane O'Leary will start at out-half in place of the injured Sale-bound ten AJ MacGinty.

The game kicks off 7.35pm tomorrow night and is live on TG4.


15. Jared Payne

14. Andrew Trimble

13. Luke Marshall

12. Stuart McCloskey

11. Craig Gilroy

10. Paddy Jackson

9. Ruan Pienaar


1. Callum Black

2. Rory Best (Capt.)

3. Ricky Lutton

4. Peter Browne

5. Franco van der Merwe

6. Iain Henderson

7. Chris Henry

8. Roger Wilson


16. Rob Herring

17. Kyle McCall

18. Bronson Ross

19. Robbie Diack

20. Sean Reidy

21. Paul Marshall

22. Stuart Olding

23. Darren Cave



15. Robbie Henshaw

14. Niyi Adeolokun

13. Bundee Aki

12. Peter Robb

11. Matt Healy

10. Shane O’Leary

9. John Cooney


1. Denis Buckley

2. Tom McCartney

3. Rodney Ah You

4. Andrew Browne

5. Aly Muldowney

6. John Muldoon (captain)

7. James Connolly

8. Eoin McKeon


16. Dave Heffernan

17. Ronan Loughney

18. Finlay Bealham

19. Ultan Dillane

20. Sean O’Brien

21. Caolin Blade

22. Cormac Brennan

23. Danie Poolman

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