Rugby Union

Ulster ring changes for Galway rugby clash

Ireland's Rory Best tackled by New Zealand's Ryan Crotty(left) and Ardie Savea during the Autumn International match at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on Saturday November 17 2018. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
John Flack

ULSTER will be without Irish internationals Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale for tonight's PRO14 game with Connacht in Galway as head coach Dan McFarland makes four changes from the side that beat Munster last week.

Best, who played a key role in setting up two of the province's tries in last Friday's 19-12 victory after coming off the bench, and Stockdale are being rested under the IRFU's player management protocols.

Johnny McPhillips, Angus Kernohan and Darren Cave have been handed starts in the back-line, replacing Billy Burns, Stuart McCloskey and Robert Baloucoune

The fourth change is in the scrum with Nick Timoney replacing Sean Reidy in the back row while Henry Speight will make his final appearance for Ulster tonight.

The Australian international will be returning home on Sunday to link up with the Brumbies as he completes his short-term contract.

Speight says he will be sad to leave Belfast, especially with the team in such good shape, having won seven of their last eight matches in all competitions.

"As soon as December 1 came around, the fact I would soon be leaving started coming to the back of your mind and it makes it a lot harder with the way the results have been going," said the 30-year-old utility back.

"With the consistency of the players' performances on the field, we are a very good side and it's going to be really hard to sort of pull away.

"Full credit to the coaching staff for getting results from our training and the faith in the boys who have been asked to step up to the plate."

Speight hopes he will leave a personal legacy at the club, having done his best to pass on his experience to the younger players in the Ulster squad.

"I hope they can see a good team man and good person, who offered to help out or give a hand in the gym or at training or with video footage," he added.

"Hopefully, I was able to play a small part in bringing along some of the young boys especially in the outside backs like Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, Angus Kernohan and Rob Lyttle.

"I learnt a lot from them too and I hope they took something from me, if they did I'd be very humbled and happy."

Speight will obviously be keen to have a winning send-off tonight as Ulster attempt to reverse the outcome of their last two games with Connacht.

The Westerners' 22-16 win in October was their first in Belfast for 58 years and followed a humiliating 44-16 defeat for Ulster in Galway a year ago.

"Their record is probably just as good as ours in the past month and we cannot switch off over Christmas week," Speight said.

"If we do, we can get a hard time there. It is a big test and it is going to be a big ask for this whole squad.

"We took a lot of learnings from the Munster game last week - it wasn't the best of games by our standards, but to come away with a win at home is pretty pleasing.

"Connacht have hit their straps and are in good form but on the flip side of that, our defence been pretty good.

"We let just one try in against Munster which is a pleasing aspect of our defence and that is something we can take forward into the Connacht game."

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