Injury ravaged Ulster seek home semi-final
Ulster v Connacht,Ravenhill, 7.05pm - Live BBC NI
Tommy Bowe plays at centre for Ulsteragainst Connacht at Ravenhill. Photograph: Inpho
Considering Ulster are struck down by a rash of injuries, while resting Darren Cave and Stephen Ferris, Connacht have plenty of reasons to believe their first victory in Belfast since 1960 is nigh.
Then again, another Ulster defeat at home is unthinkable.
The bravery and commitment shown by the 14 men to almost repel Saracens last Saturday has taken an enormous toll on Mark Anscombe’s resources.
Rory Best, John Afoa, Ruan Pienaar, Roger Wilson and Dan Tuohy – internationals all – are out with varying degrees of bodily harm.
Andrew Trimble, who seemed to ship the most damaging impact of all against Saracens, has been passed fit having “followed the necessary return to play protocols.” The Irish winger was concussed making a try saving tackle last weekend.
Craig Gilroy comes onto the other wing as Tommy Bowe goes to centre.
Connacht are equally cursed by injuries. Willie Faloon would have been desperate to make a long-awaited return against his home province but a tight hamstring gives academy backrow Eoghan Masterson more exposure.
“[Eoghan is] playing out of position but showing time and time again his ability to adapt and slot in to an experienced backrow,” said coach Pat Lam. “Nathan White also pulled up with a calf injury so we’re travelling with academy prop Finlay Bealham this week who has impressed in training and the two games he’s been called upon for.”
That makes it awfully difficult to see Connacht putting a dent in Ulster’s remaining target after European glory was unfairly ripped from their grasp.
Sitting third in the Pro12, three points behind Munster, they can temporarily slip into the home semi-final position until Glasgow travel to Thomond Park tomorrow.
“We haven’t won at Ravenhill in 54 year (sic) so this is our chance to make history,” Lam counters. “We know it’s going to take a massive team effort but it’s exciting. This is what we play rugby for, to go up against it and beat the odds.”
They have beaten the odds in some challenging surrounds this season – Toulouse and Rodney Parade spring to mind – but new Ravenhill’s wrath six days after Jared Payne’s red card, six days after that brutal experience will be hard to suppress.
ULSTER: R Andrew; A Trimble, T Bowe, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring, R Lutton; J Muller (capt), I Henderson; R Diack, C Henry, N Williams. Replacements: N Annett, T Court, A Macklin, L Stevenson, S Doyle, M Heaney, J McKinney, S McCloskey.
CONNACHT: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Carr; D Parks, K Marmion; D Buckley, J Harris-Wright, R Ah You; A Muldowney, M Kearney; J Muldoon (capt), E Masterson, E McKeon. Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, F Bealham, M Swift, A Browne, F Murphy, M Nikora, D Leader.
Referee: I Davies (Wales).
Verdict: Ulster win.