McCall's men to get back on track

 

Celtic League/Connacht v Ulster: Connacht come into this game having won only one of their past five matches. That it is in Galway at the Sportsground will be significant to the home side, but with Ulster still smarting from what they perceived as handing Leinster a couple of easy tries in Ravenhill Road last time out, there is an eagerness to get back into winning ways for coach Mark McCall.

So far Connacht have beaten three sides at home in various competitions - Cardiff Blues, Amatori Catania and Worcester - while Ulster are hoping to avoid their third successive defeat, having lost to Saracens and then Leinster on St Stephen's Day.

It is a big match for Ulster and one they would expect to win comfortably. McCall has lost Mat McCullough to injury, but the Rowan Frost and Justin Harrison secondrow partnership still has experience working for it, and Frost will relish the prospect of meeting old team-mates on familiar ground.

The Ulster backline has plenty of pace too. Tommy Bowe has already scored tries in each of the four matches he has played against Connacht, while Paul Steinmetz out wide, with the formidable Kevin Maggs and the more creative Andrew Trimble in the centre, can also punch holes.

Last time out, it was Trimble who looked like the Ulster player most likely to break the Leinster defence. It was also his dash up the left side that sucked three players across and opened up Leinster for the Ulster try. McCall has also opted for Kieran Campbell rather than Isaac Boss.

History isn't with Connacht, who welcome back Colm Rigney after a neck injury, while Mark McHugh has not made it to the squad either. Their only win in their last 11 encounters with Ulster since 1998 was 31-20 at Galway in the Celtic League on November 8th, 2003.

But Ulster will tread cautiously here, particularly after the loose 20 minutes Ulster played in the second half against Leinster, the worst phase McCall has seen since taking the job.

"I watched them against Munster and the scoreline didn't probably reflect the way the game went, as Connacht were on top for quite a lot of the game," says Ulster captain Simon Best.

"Connacht have had a few close games this season and have come out on the wrong side of them. The fact they haven't had that many wins doesn't reflect the way they are playing. They are a very dangerous side and are strong up front, which we know from playing them earlier."

A tough challenge for the visitors, but they probably have enough to stop Connacht from improving from their one win so far in the competition.

CONNACHT: M Mostyn; T Robinson, J Hearty, K Mathews, C McPhillips; D Slemen, C Keane; R Hogan, J Fogarty, S Knoop, C Short, A Farely, J Muldoon, M Lacey, C Rigney. Replacements: J Merrigan, A Clarke, M Swift, B O'Connor, T Tierney, P Warwick, A Mailei.

ULSTER: B Cunningham; T Bowe, K Maggs, A Trimble, P Steinmetz; D Humphreys, K Campbell; J Fitzpatrick, R Best, S Best, J Harrison, R Frost, N Nest, N McMillan, R Wilson. Replacements: N Brady, B Young, R Caldwell, S Ferris, I Boss, A Larkin, J Topping.

Referee: A Lewis