Dan McFarland’s first team sheet after lockdown sees Ulster go fully loaded against Andy Friend’s Connacht.
Billy Burns captains the side from out half while the only absentees from the pack are Iain Henderson and Sean Reidy.
The front row is full strength. Jack McGrath and Marty Moore start at loosehead and tighthead prop respectively while Rob Herring starts at hooker. Sam Carter has to contend with a place on the bench with Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell occupying the starting berths. Nick Timoney is Sean Reidy’s replacement joining Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee in the second row.
John Cooney starts against his former club alongside Burns while Stuart McCloskey will face off with new Connacht centurian Bundee Aki. James Hume is rewarded for showing good promise during the break with a start alongside the Bangorman. Louis Ludik and Craig Gilroy start on the wings with Jacob Stockdale named as the full back.
Connacht have fielded a full strength side for the match tomorrow. Bundee will make his 100th appearance while new signing Alex Wootton starts on the left wing. McCloskey has the chance to lay down a marker against his opposite number who is currently ahead of him in the pecking order. His centre partner Tom Farrell has been unfortunate not to make more international appearances as he has been in great form the last couple of seasons. A powerful figure, he’ll look to get the hands free up against Hume and offload the ball.
Although Colby Faainga has moved onto new pastures, their back row of Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler and Paul Boyle has a good balance of pace and brute force. Boyle put in a man of the match performance against Ulster at the Sportsground in December 2018.
The key to this match (and the rest of the tournament) is discipline. The start of Super Rugby Aotearoa (New Zealand), Super Rugby AU (Australia) and the return of Gallagher Premiership all had a common theme: penalties were handed out like Christmas cards. OptaJonny recorded 30 infringements per game in the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa, nine more than what the remaining fixtures averaged. In last night’s Gallagher Premiership action 102 penalties were handed out over three matches.
Adapting to the new ‘focus points’ has been difficult for other leagues and we saw last night’s Italian tussle between Benetton Rugby and Zebre fall foul of the same with 30 penalties being awarded. Emphasis has been placed on the attacking side arriving at the breakdown on their feet and entering through the gate. Players have to be a lot more accurate when jackaling and cannot reach beyond the ball or wrap up the player (unless the attacking player has placed the ball using the squeeze ball method).
We shouldn’t be expecting a fluid, free scoring game rather the winner will determined by which side has the best discipline and can take advantage of the other’s indiscipline.
The FRU predicts: An error-strewn match that will be decided by whoever kicks their goals. I’m going Ulster by three points.
|John Porch||15||Jacob Stockdale|
|Peter Sullivan||14||Craig Gilroy|
|Tom Farrell||13||James Hume|
|Bundee Aki||12||Stuart McCloskey|
|Alex Wootton||11||Louis Ludik|
|Jack Carty||10||Billy Burns|
|Kieran Marmion||9||John Cooney|
|Denis Buckley||1||Jack McGrath|
|Dave Heffernan||2||Rob Herring|
|Finlay Bealham||3||Marty Moore|
|Ultan Dillane||4||Alan O’Connor|
|Gavin Thornbury||5||Kieran Treadwell|
|Eoghan Masterson||6||Nick Timoney|
|Jarrad Butler||7||Jordi Murphy|
|Paul Boyle||8||Marcell Coetzee|
|Jonny Murphy||16||Adam McBurney|
|Jordan Duggan||17||Eric O’Sullivan|
|Jack Aungier||18||Tom O’Toole|
|Niall Murray||19||Sam Carter|
|Conor Oliver||20||Matthew Rea|
|Stephen Kerins||21||Alby Mathewson|
|Conor Dean||22||Ian Madigan|
|Tom Daly||23||Michael Lowry|