Friday 21 June 2019

Ulster back to their Best as Butler answers the call

PRO 14 League, Ulster v Connacht, Live eirsport (KO 7.35)

Rory Best
Rory Best

Ireland captain Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale will appear for the first time this season at home to Connacht in the PRO14 tonight.

The presence of Best should provide a degree of comfort, if that is possible, to rookie tight-head Tom O'Toole, who has been a bright light to this point in the season.

Scrum-half John Cooney and lock Iain Henderson have also recovered from injury in last week's blow-out loss away to Munster.

The Ulstermen will have to rediscover themselves after the shallow nature of their pool of talent was shown up in Thomond Park.

They need all, or most, hands on the deck to live up to the expectations of the Kingspan faithful.

Jarrad Butler
Jarrad Butler

Luckily, Marcell Coetzee will man the number eight shirt with Nick Timoney and the powerful Matthew Rea completing that unit.

Henderson has passed his return-to-play protocols to make it back in time in what is a somewhat surprising selection.

Given what is coming around the corner in the Champions Cup, there must have been serious consideration about giving the second row this weekend away from the game.

After all, they can afford to leave Kieran Treadwell on the bench.

The most influential moments should arrive from the hands and boots of the half-backs Cooney - their primary goal-kicker - and Billy Burns.

The Irish-qualified ten has provided plenty of spark and invention.

The level of control to his game will become increasingly important as the weather deteriorates and the heavy pitches play more to the strengths of the bigger men.

Connacht will have captain Jarrad Butler in the back row.

The Australian will have impressive number eight Paul Boyle and in-form Sean O'Brien there for company.

"Both sides will be trying to recover from the six day turnaround and that is the challenge in these big games," said their coach Andy Friend.

"This week involved reviewing the game last week and fine-tuning things so we are ready to go.

"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," he explained.

Connacht bring the bulk of their first-choice crew north in a clear signal of intent.

Perhaps, Henderson has been included to combat the physical force of Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux.

If Connacht can generate enough ball, Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty are in good enough form to make it count.

Verdict: Ulster.

Ulster: P Nelson; A Kernohan, A Curtis, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Best (Capt), T O'Toole, A O'Connor, I Henderson, M Rea, N Timoney, M Coetzee.

Replacements: A McBurney, E O'Sullivan, R Kane, K Treadwell, S Reidy, D Shanahan, J McPhillips, J Hume.

Connacht: T O'Halloran, N Adeolokun, T Farrell, B Aki, M Healy; J Carty, K Marmion; D Buckley, T McCartney, F Bealham, U Dillane, Q Roux, S O'Brien, J Butler (Capt), P Boyle.

Replacements: S Delahunt, P McCabe, C Carey, J Cannon, C Fainga'a, C Blade, K Godwin, C Kelleher.

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