Tommy Bowe gets first start since return from injury as Ulster face Connacht test
Guinness PRO12: Connacht v Ulster
(Friday, Sportsground, 7.35pm, live on BBC2 NI)
FOR the first time since his two-try display at Zebre back in April, Tommy Bowe will start a game for Ulster as they travel to the home of the reigning champions.
The Ireland winger came on for the final 20 minutes of last Saturday’s narrow 9-7 victory over Ospreys, which took Ulster’s winning run to five games. He comes straight in for Charles Piutau, who misses out through injury, while Ruan Pienaar is rested ahead of the start of the European Champions Cup campaign next weekend.
That means Paul Marshall pairs Paddy Jackson at half-back, while Louis Ludik moves from the wing to centre as Jared Payne returns to full-back to captain the side. Robbie Diack comes back into the side at lock alongside Pete Browne in a new-look second row, with Franco van der Merwe out through injury.
Ulster were the only team to win at the Sportsground in any competition last season, with the since-departed Nick Williams’ late try settling a fiercely contested St. Stephen’s Day clash in horrendous conditions.
The champions’ start to the season has been patchy, with last weekend’s bonus-point win over Edinburgh finally getting them off the mark. Pat Lam has made six changes from that team, and he will be without winger Matt Healy and scrum-half Kieran Marmion, while Quinn Roux is also out after picking up a knock while training with Ireland this week.
Craig Ronaldson will make his first start of the season in midfield as he makes his return from a long-term thigh injury. Returning Irish international Finlay Bealham is named at loosehead as Denis Buckley also misses out.
“We’ve been hit with a good few injuries to our senior squad this week, and have had to make changes to the side as late as this morning,” said Connacht boss Lam on Thursday.
“Despite all the different disruptions, we are all really excited by the challenge we face at home against Ulster. Ulster are a well-coached side with quality players across the park. We know they will come here full of confidence after the start that they’ve had and will be targeting this game to continue their impressive run.
“As long as we continue our day-to-day improvement in team performance, we will give ourselves a chance to get the points on offer.”
Connacht: T O’Halloran; N Adeolokun, B Aki, C Ronaldson, C Kelleher; J Carty, C Blade; F Bealham, D Heffernan, C Carey; U Dillane, A Browne; E McKeon, J Heenan, J Muldoon; Replacements: S Delahunt, R Loughney, JP Cooney, L Stevenson, J Connolly, S Kerins, S O’Leary, S Ili
Ulster: J Payne; T Bowe, L Ludik, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black, R Best, R Ah You, R Diack, P Browne, I Henderson, C Ross, R Wilson; Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, R Kane, K Treadwell, S Reidy, D Shanahan, B Herron, R Lyttle