Monday 18 February 2019

Connacht can bridge lengthy 57-year gap to shock their Ulster hosts

Ulster v Connacht (Tonight, TG4/BBC2, 7.35)

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion
Scrum-half Kieran Marmion

Connacht have not won in Belfast since November 1960 - 57 years ago.

This is all anyone needs to know about the size of the task for Kieran Keane's men at the Kingspan Stadium this evening (KO 7.35).

Ulster will be hurt by the news that Marcell Coetzee will return to South Africa to investigate the extent of his knee problem.

He suffered knee pain and swelling in training and will meet with the surgeon who performed his original ACL repair.

The slack will be taken up by a bullocking back row of Iain Henderson, Chris Henry and Jean Deysel.

The three-quarter line is bursting with size and athleticism as Jacob Stockdale continues to look the part inside effective half-backs John Cooney and Christian Leali'ifano.

For all of that, there were significant signs against the Scarlets that Connacht are making headway with a change of coach and a change in style.

Scrum-half Kieran Marmion will make his 100th League appearance in what is almost a full strength complement.

There second-row combination of the under-rated Quinn Roux and rejuvenated Ultan Dillane looks built for the purpose of handing Ulster their second straight defeat.

Flanker Jarrad Butler already appears to be a good signing in a back row with the rangy Eoin McKeon and captain 'extraordinaire' John Muldoon.

It could all come down to how out-half Jack Carty handles the pressure as the main decision-maker for a lively back division, spearheaded by Bundee Aki.

Ulster: C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Leali'ifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst, A O'Connor, K Treadwell, I Henderson, C Henry (capt), J Deysel.

Connacht: T O'Halloran; C Kelleher, B Aki, T Farrell, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, Q Roux, E McKeon, J Butler, J Muldoon (capt).

Verdict: Connacht

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