Best and Cave set for Ravenhill farewells against Connacht
Irish provinces face off in Belfast on Saturday for a place in the Pro14 semi-finals
Ulster’s Rory Best will make his final appearance for the province in Ravenhill on Saturday. Photo: Matt Mackey/Inpho
Pro14 semi-final qualifier: Ulster v Connacht
Kick-off: 5.35pm, Saturday. Venue: Ravenhill. On TV: Eir Sport, Premier Sports.
Rory Best and Darren Cave will make their final Ulster appearances at Ravenhill after being named to start against Connacht on Saturday.
The winners will book a place in the semi-finals where they will face Glasgow Warriors in a fortnight’s time.
Best and Cave, who have made a combined total of 446 appearances for Ulster to date, have both announced that they will retire from club rugby at the end of the current season.
Best has returned from injury and will captain the side from his role at hooker. He will be joined in the front row by Ross Kane and Eric O’Sullivan, while Iain Henderson and Kieran Treadwell will provide grunt from the second row. A loose forward combination of Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee has been selected.
John Cooney and Billy Burns are re-instated into the half-back positions, with Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall partnered in midfield. Academy players Michael Lowry and Robert Baloucoune will line out in the back three alongside Rob Lyttle.
Connacht have beaten Ulster twice in their last two encounters and will be hoping to make it three on the bounce if they are to book a semi-final place this year.
And Andy Friend has brough back in his big names for the clash with Jack Carty among eight changes from the team which faced Munster last weekend.
Carty returns to form a half back partnership with Kieran Marmion, with Caolin Blade named among the replacements.
Elsewhere in the back line, Tom Farrell comes back in to partner Bundee Aki in midfield. There is one change in the back three where Matt Healy is the only change from the side the side that played Munster last weekend. Stephen Fitzgerald starts on the opposite wing and Tiernan O’Halloran at full back.
Up front prop Denis Buckley returns to the side as does hooker Dave Heffernan. Tighthead Finlay Bealham showed no ill effect of his recent hand injury last time out and he retains his place. In the second row Irish International Ultan Dillane will partner Gavin Thornbury.
In the back row, Colby Fainga’a is the only change as he comes in at openside with Captain Jarrad Butler switching to number 8, while Eoin McKeon is named at blindside.
ULSTER: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Best (c), R Kane, I Henderson, K Treadwell, N Timoney, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, T O’Toole, A O’Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, D Cave, A Kernohan.
CONNACHT: Tiernan O’Halloran; Stephen Fitzgerald, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury; Eoin McKeon, Colby Fainga’a, Jarrad Butler (c).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, Eoghan Masterson, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Tom Daly, Darragh Leader.