Tuesday 24 September 2019

Rory Best set for Kingspan farewell as Ulster announce quarter-final team to face Connacht

LAST STAND?: Rory Best could be playing his final game at Kingspan Stadium. Photo: Ross Parker/Sportsfile
LAST STAND?: Rory Best could be playing his final game at Kingspan Stadium. Photo: Ross Parker/Sportsfile

Adam McKendry

Rory Best will get one final game at Kingspan Stadium after recovering from injury in time to face Connacht in tomorrow's Guinness PRO14 quarter-final (kick-off 5.35pm).

The hooker limped off during Ulster's Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster with an ankle injury, with fears that would end his season and his Ulster career.

However, the 36-year-old has won his battle to be fit and will take his place in the starting line-up in Belfast one last time for the game against Ulster's interprovincial rivals.

While Best has recovered from injury, superstar winger Jacob Stockdale has not and does not feature in the matchday squad, with a potential semi-final now the target.

Only three of the team that started against Leinster are retained for this game, with Dan McFarland making wholesale changes to his side ahead of Ulster's first home knockout tie since April 2014.

Full-back Michael Lowry, tighthead prop Ross Kane and blindside flanker Nick Timoney all keep their spots in the run-on team as McFarland opts for 12 changes.

That sees the likes of Ireland internationals John Cooney, Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy all restored to the line-up, as is influential Springbok Marcell Coetzee at No.8.

Electric winger Robert Lyttle and Academy star Robert Baloucoune round out Ulster's back three alongside Lowry, while the now-entrenched first choice centre pairing of Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey are reunited.

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At fly-half, Billy Burns is given the nod once again alongside Cooney at half-back, with Eric O'Sullivan named at loosehead prop as Best and Kane fill the rest of the front row.

In the engine room at lock, Kieran Treadwell combines with Henderson for a powerful combo, while Timoney, Murphy and Coetzee are an agile yet barnstorming back row trio.

On the bench, Rob Herring, Andy Warwick and Tom O'Toole provide the front row cover, while Alan O'Connor and Sean Reidy - who has passed his return-to-play protocols - are also forward replacements.

In the backs, Darren Cave could make his 228th Ulster appearance if called upon, while David Shanahan and Academy winger Angus Kernohan round out the side.

Ulster team to play Connacht

15. Michael Lowry; 14. Robert Baloucoune, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Rob Lyttle; 10. Billy Burns, 9. John Cooney; 1. Eric O'Sullivan, 2. Rory Best (captain), 3. Ross Kane; 4. Iain Henderson, 5. Kieran Treadwell; 6. Nick Timoney, 7. Jordi Murphy, 8. Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Andy Warwick, 18. Tom O'Toole, 19. Alan O'Connor, 20. Sean Reidy, 21. David Shanahan, 22. Darren Cave, 23. Angus Kernohan.

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