| 4.6°C Dublin

Wannenburg demands Ulster hunt bonus point on front foot

LIKE the Formula One straggler who just refuses to allow himself to be lapped, Connacht travel to Ravenhill this evening with nothing to play for and little to lose.

Ulster have their sights set on the Magners League play-offs, and wins over Eric Elwood's charges and the Dragons in a fortnight would cap a fine season.

But Connacht are travelling with a chip on their shoulder and nothing helps prove their relevance more than tripping up one of their neighbours.

However, they have not won at Ravenhill since the game went professional.

The teams drew when they last met in Galway, but nothing less than a bonus point win will be acceptable for an Ulster side in a four-way chase for three remaining play-off spots.

One point behind Cardiff in fourth place, they are just one point above the Ospreys, who host runaway leaders Munster tomorrow -- Leinster are second.

Last week, Cardiff brushed Connacht aside, and the feeling is that with their season over, the westerners' minds have drifted towards summer holidays -- and for some a future elsewhere.

Do they have a sting in their tail? Certainly Ulster won't be taking them for granted.

After two difficult weeks that saw them crash out of the Heineken Cup against Northampton, perform poorly in defeat to Leinster and lose Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble for the season, the hosts could use a boost.

One plus point is the return from injury of Springbok Johann Muller in a selection that sees Nevin Spence move to inside-centre and Darren Cave replace Wallace.

Craig Gilroy replaces Trimble on the wing, while Jerry Cronin gets a rare start in the front-row alongside Paddy McAllister.

And while some would be more conservative about their intentions, Muller's compatriot Pedrie Wannenburg is not holding back.

"The Magners League is in our own hands now and we must focus on what we want to do and not on anything else," he said.

"The players know that we need to get a bonus point out of this game and the next game as well and then hopefully we'll make the top four. We mustn't be negative at the moment."

Michael Swift, and Brett Wilkinson return for the visitors, while John Muldoon starts at No 8 for the first time since he broke his arm in December.

They travel with a point to prove, but Ulster have more to play for.

After seeing their Heineken Cup dream go up in flames, a semi-final would confirm the improvement made this season and represent a major boost. They should have enough to edge closer.

Verdict: Ulster

ULSTER -- A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, S Danielli; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; P McAllister, R Best (capt), J Cronin; J Muller, D Tuohy; C Henry, W Faloon, P Wannenburg. Replacements: A Kyriacou, B Young, A Macklin, T Barker, R Diack, P Marshall, I Whitten, C Gaston.

CONNACHT -- G Duffy; E Griffin, N Ta'auso, T Nathan, F Carr; I Keatley, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, S Cronin, J Hagan; M Swift, B Upton; M McCarthy, J O'Connor (capt), J Muldoon. Replacements: A Flavin, R Loughney, R Ah You, A Browne, M McComish, C Willis, M Nikora, T O'Halloran.

Ulster v Connacht,

Live, BBC 1, 7.05

Irish Independent