Dan McFarland has announced that a rotated squad will travel to Galway today to take on Connacht in the second of three interprovincials over the Christmas and New Year period.

Tommy O’Hagan is set to make his debut if he appears off the bench while Darren Cave, Johnny McPhillips, Angus Kernohan and Nick Timoney are welcomed back to the starting lineup.

Henry Speight will make his last appearance in an Ulster jersey today before he heads back to Australia.

The front row remains unchanged and is formed by Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Marty Moore. Ian Nagle was solid against Munster and continues in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell. There’s only one change to the back row as Nick Timoney replaces Sean Reidy at blindside flanker. Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee continue at 7 and 8 respectively.

Billy Burns is rested so Johnny McPhillips makes his first start since the Dragons at the end of October and is partnered by John Cooney. Stuart McCloskey has missed just two games all season but is rested and starts on the bench tonight. Darren Cave takes his spot at inside centre while Will Addison remains at 13. Speight and Louis Ludik continue on the right wing and fullback respectively while Angus Kernohan will make his first appearance since Scarlets at the end of November.

Despite Saturday’s agonizing defeat in Dublin, Connacht have hit a rich vein of form in recent weeks and prior to that loss had recorded five straight victories. They defeated Ulster at Kingspan/Ravenhill for the first time in 58 years back in October and have a fairly useful record at home against the northern province in recent times. Ulster’s last win in Galway came on Boxing Day 2015.

Sean O’Brien was excellent against Ulster last time out, recording two turnovers in his 70 minutes on the pitch and with Ulster’s back row hitting some form, this should be a good tussle. Will Addison faces Tom Farrell in the midfield and the Ireland U20 international has largely gone under the radar this season. A strong runner his ability to get his arms free is a super attacking threat as Leinster found out when he offloaded to Darragh Leader last week.

Former Ulster academy player, Conor Carey starts at tighthead prop instead of Finlay Bealham while Denis Buckley is the only survivor from the front row that demolished Ulster at scrum time in the previous meeting. Half backs, Caolin Blade and Jack Carty were exceptional against Leinster with the latter scoring a superb individual try. Carty is similar to McPhillips in the sense that if he sees a gap he will go for so Ulster’s defence needs to be on its toes for the whole match.

This is going to be a tough ask for Ulster but a win would certainly be needed if they’re looking to consolidate their spot in second spot ahead of Leinster next weekend.

The FRU predicts: Ulster are missing a few key individuals from their side and someone needs to step up as a leader as this has been an issue when the internationals are missing. I don’t think Ulster will win this one so Connacht by five points.

Connacht Ulster
Darragh Leader 15 Louis Ludik
Cain Kelleher 14 Henry Speight
Tom Farrell 13 Will Addison
Bundee Aki 12 Darren Cave
Kyle Godwin 11 Angus Kernohan
Jack Carty 10 Johnny McPhillips
Caolin Blade 9 John Cooney
Denis Buckley 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Shane Delahunt 2 Rob Herring
Conor Carey 3 Marty Moore
Gavin Thornbury 4 Ian Nagle
Quinn Roux 5 Kieran Treadwell
Sean O’Brien 6 Nick Timoney
Colby Fainga’a 7 Jordi Murphy
Jarrad Butler 8 Marcell Coetzee
Dave Heffernan 16 Adam McBurney
Peter McCabe 17 Tommy O’Hagan
Dominic Robertson-McCoy 18 Ross Kane
Ultan Dillane 19 Clive Ross
Paul Boyle 20 Greg Jones
James Mitchell 21 Dave Shanahan
David Horowitz 22 Pete Nelson
Steven Fitzgerald 23 Stuart McCloskey

#SUFTUM