Ulster name a strong team for the first inter provincial derby of the season as Connacht make the trip to Belfast for tomorrow night’s Guinness PRO14 fixture (KO 19:35).

Looking to bounce back from the loss suffered against Zebre last week, Les Kiss makes nine changes to his side which is likely to be the one that will open the European Champions’ Cup campaign next week.

It’s a new front row with Kyle McCall, Rob Herring and Wiehahn Herbst replacing Callum Black, John Andrew and Rodney Ah You. Iain Henderson moves to blindside flanker while Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell make up a very physical lock pairing. Ulster lost the battle at the breakdown last week likely due to the absence of Chris Henry who returns to captain the side at openside flanker. Jean Deysel completes the back row and starts at no.8.

John Cooney and Christian Lealiifano continue as Ulster’s halfbacks. Stuart McCloskey is welcomed back to outside centre alongside Luke Marshall. Tommy Bowe is the only change to the back three as he replaces Andrew Trimble who has to wait to break Roger Wilson’s all-time caps record. Charles Piutau and Jacob Stockdale start at fullback and on the wing respectively.

Kieran Keane has also named a strong Connacht team containing seven Irish internationals. Kieran Marmion makes his 100th appearance for the province and starts at scrum half. The Western side are missing Niyi Adeolokun who is still recovering from an injury.

Connacht have had a difficult start to the PRO14 season, facing both Scarlets and Glasgow in their opening five matches. Connacht’s only win came against the Southern Kings in gameweek two. A late try in Parc-y-Scarlets, gave their hosts and unassailable lead with only a couple of minutes to go despite Tiernan O’Halloran scoring to bring Connacht to within two points of the champions.

Ulster have not lost to Connacht in Belfast since November 1960 and Ulster undoubtedly start as favourites for the match. Connacht’s fast tempo could play into Ulster’s hands. Ulster were able to adapt their strategy to neutralise the Scarlets’ effect and, as the Scarlets and Connacht play a similar brand of rugby, we could be seeing Christian Lealiifano and John Cooney control the game with their kicking.

The FRU predicts: “In Galway this match would be 50/50 however with Ulster’s formidable home record recently, I think they will triumph by ten points.”

ULSTER   CONNACHT
Charles Piutau 15 Tiernan O’Halloran
Tommy Bowe 14 Cian Kelleher
Luke Marshall 13 Bundee Aki
Stuart McCloskey 12 Tom Farrell
Jacob Stockdale 11 Matt Healy
Christian Lealiifano 10 Jack Carty
John Cooney 9 Kieran Marmion
Kyle McCall 1 Denis Buckley
Rob Herring 2 Tom McCartney
Wiehahn Herbst 3 Finlay Bealham
Alan O’Connor 4 Ultan Dillane
Kieran Treadwell 5 Quinn Roux
Iain Henderson 6 Eoin McKeon
Chris Henry © 7 Jarrad Butler
Jean Deysel 8 John Muldoon ©
John Andrew 16 Dave Heffernan
Andrew Warwick 17 Denis Coulson
Rodney Ah You 18 Conor Carey
Robbie Diack 19 James Cannon
Sean Reidy 20 Eoghan Materson
Paul Marshall 21 Caolin Blade
Pete Nelson 22 Steve Crosbie
Louis Ludik 23 Eoin Griffin

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