Match Preview: Connacht Rugby vs. Ulster Rugby

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Match Preview: Connacht Rugby vs. Ulster Rugby

Post by ADM »

[tag=image] ... sTdVu.jpeg[/tag][tag=content]Sometimes in the league you have to ride your luck, and we most certainly did last weekend.

That's not necessarily a bad thing though. As much as we would like to put 40 or 50 points on teams each week, the ability to win those close games (something which we have struggled to do in the past) is a sign of a team that is mature and can win championships. Of course, we'd rather we didn't have to win ugly that often, but it's nice to know that we can.

Still, it doesn't excuse the fact that the Ospreys exposed some of our weaknesses. Justin Tipuric had a field day (legally or not, you decide) against our back row which, up until now, has surprised many in its performances, while our back line failed to make significant inroads through a well-drilled and excellently organised defence. The question deserves asking: when Plan A fails, what's Plan B?

Those questions have to be answered too, especially since our European opener away to Bordeaux-Begles lies just around the corner. We have just one game to rectify our Ospreys shortcomings before making the trip to the Stade Chaban Delmas, and when you consider it's away to the defending champions, Connacht, it doesn't give us much wriggle room to work with in terms of getting things wrong for a second week running.

As poor as Connacht's start to the season has been, they have improved week on week. Gradually the results are improving. Gradually the performances are looking more cohesive. Their lack of a decent pre-season (they had two friendlies cancelled by their opponents) has now been negated by their opening five games of the season, and last weekend they put Edinburgh to the sword like they were doing to teams all of last year.

All that means we go to the Sportsground just as Pat Lam's men are hitting form, and no doubt they will be gunning for our scalp given their record against us is dreadful compared to their record against Leinster and Munster. Their reign as champions has been nothing short of humiliating, but they could restore some pride by ending the only remaining unbeaten record in the league.

Therefore, this could be a game that ends up being a massive confidence booster or a big shock back to reality. Last week proved that we are going to be a very hard team to break down and defeat, as highlighted by our excellent defensive record, and we have a great opportunity here to enter the European campaign six from six. At the same time, this is a game that could really trip us up - five from six doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Still, confidence is the key term. Our squad are currently brimming with confidence after our start to the season and that, combined with the talent, is a very deadly combo. We may be missing a few key names from our line-up from this round, but winning is a squad wide habit and we should still be confident that we can pick up our sixth straight win.

And that would set us up perfectly for Europe.

The stats
Connacht Rugby earned the first league point of their 2016/17 Guinness PRO12 campaign courtesy of a bonus point victory over Edinburgh in Galway on Friday.

The reigning champions finished last season with a won four lost three record against fellow Irish provinces in the Championship.

Ulster Rugby maintained their perfect start to the new Guinness PRO12 campaign with a fifth successive victory, albeit a narrow one, over Ospreys in Belfast on Saturday.

Ulster’s only defeat in their last five away games came in last season’s semi-final against Leinster at the RDS Arena.

Connacht have beaten Ulster just once in their last twenty encounters: 26-21 at the Sportsground in April 2012.

The teams
Pat Lam opts for five changes from the team that picked up their first win of the season last weekend, most of which are enforced. In the backs, Craig Ronaldson has recovered from injury to start at inside centre, while Caolin Blade comes in for the injured Kieran Marmion at scrum-half. Former Ulsterman Finlay Bealham starts at loosehead with Denis Buckley sidelined, while Dave Heffernan comes in at hooker for Tom McCartney. In the second row Andrew Browne is preferred to Quinn Roux while the back row, including captain John Muldoon, is unchanged.

Ulster also make five changes from the team that was named to face the Ospreys last weekend. In the backs Tommy Bowe makes his first start of the season for his province, replacing the injured Charles Piutau on the right wing with Louis Ludik moving into the centre and captain for the evening Jared Payne back to full back. Up front Callum Black gets the start at loosehead as the props continue to rotate, while Robbie Diack and Pete Browne are recalled to the second row in place of the injured duo of Alan O'Connor and Franco van der Merwe. In the back row there is a start for Clive Ross at openside ahead of Sean Reidy.

Connacht Rugby vs. Ulster Rugby
Friday 7th October, 19:35
Galway Sportsground
Guinness PRO12 - Round 6

Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland and TG4

15. Tiernan O'Halloran, 14. Niyi Adeolokun, 13. Bundee Aki, 12. Craig Ronaldson, 11. Cian Kelleher, 10. Jack Carty, 9. Caolin Blade; 1. Finlay Bealham, 2. Dave Heffernan, 3. Conor Carey, 4. Ultan Dillane, 5. Andrew Browne, 6. Eoin McKeon, 7. Jake Heenan, 8. John Muldoon (capt.).

Replacements: 16. Shane Delahunt, 17. Ronan Loughney, 18. JP Cooney, 19. Lewis Stevenson, 20. James Connolly, 21. Stephen Kerins, 22. Shane O'Leary, 23. Stacey Ili.

15. Jared Payne (capt.), 14. Tommy Bowe, 13. Louis Ludik, 12. Darren Cave, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Paul Marshall; 1. Callum Black, 2. Rory Best, 3. Rodney Ah You, 4. Robbie Diack, 5. Pete Browne, 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Clive Ross, 8. Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Andy Warwick, 18. Ross Kane, 19. Kieran Treadwell, 20. Sean Reidy, 21. David Shanahan, 22. Brett Herron, 23. Rob Lyttle.

Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU, 24th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Leo Colgan (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Wayne Sheridan (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)[/tag]
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