Jacob Stockdale and Rory Best return as Connacht send strong team to Belfast
Thank goodness both head coaches have rolled the dice and picked strong teams.
15 Ireland internationals will be on show at Kingspan Stadium, Belfast when Ulster welcome Connacht in Guinness PRO14 encounter (7.35pm, Kingspan Stadium, live on eir Sport) with a lot riding on it.
Ulster suffered their first defeat of the season when they got walloped by Munster, at Thomond Park, last weekend. Dan McFarland has brought Jacob Stockdale and Rory Best into his starting XV but Connacht are heading north with a decent squad.
Andy Friend's men lost to Leinster at the Sportsground in their last PRO14 outing as they ran into blue wall after blue wall. Leinster will prove unstoppable for most PRO14 sides but another loss to an inter-provincial rival will see them drop down the table before they head into Challenge Cup action.
Best will captain Ulster on his return to the side and he will pack down with props Tom O'Toole and Andrew Warwick. Alan O’Connor and Iain Henderson are just behind them in the second row while Marcell Coetzee is fit again and joins Matthew Rea and Nick Timoney in the back row.
The big news in the Ulster backline is Stockdale getting the No.11 jersey for his first game of the season. A hamstring tear delayed his return by a few weeks but he goes into the back three with Angus Kernohan and Peter Nelson.
ULSTER: Peter Nelson; Angus Kernohan, Angus Curtis, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best (captain), Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, Marcell Coetzee;
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Dave Shanahan, Johnny McPhillips, James Hume.
Connacht, meanwhile, welcome back captain Jarrad Butler to openside. Butler is one of four fresh faces in the westerner's starting XV for the game. As per the Connacht release:
'There is one change in the front row as Tom McCartney starts at hooker in place of the injured Dave Heffernan who captained the team against Leinster. The remainder of the front 5 is unchanged with props Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham both included as is Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux in the second row.
'Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion continue their half-back partnership as do Bundee Aki and Tom Farrell in the midfield. Matt Healy’s return from injury on the wing sees him included in a back three that includes Niyi Adeolokun on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at fullback.'
"Both sides will be trying to recover from the six day turnaround and that is the challenge in these big games," said Friend.
"This week involved reviewing the game last week and fine tuning things from last weekend so we are ready to go for Friday. It is great to have our captain Jarrad back and one or two other guys who were returning from small knocks. We are expecting a massive challenge from a real quality Ulster side."
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Niyi Adeolokun, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux; Sean O’Brien, Jarrad Butler (captain), Paul Boyle.
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Colby Fainga’a, Caolin Blade, Kyle Godwin, Cian Kelleher.
The match will be live on eir Sport 1 from 7:35pm with Tommy Bowe presenting from his old stomping ground, Kingspan Stadium.