The Ulster men will kickstart their 22/23 BKT United Rugby Championship campaign against Interpro rivals, Connacht Rugby, at home this Saturday (7 35pm, Kingspan Stadium).
Following a pre-season victory over Exeter Chiefs, secured in front of a home crowd, Ulster will be looking to start the season with a strong performance against familiar rival, Connacht Rugby.
The last time the two Irish provinces faced each other was back in February when Dan McFarland’s side put in a winning performance, which saw Greg Jones, Declan Moore and Rob Baloucoune cross the whitewash in a 32-12 bonus point win.
But there have been trials, as well as tribulations, when it comes to facing the West of Ireland collective, as Head Coach Dan McFarland, who has a long-standing connection to the club as both a player and coach, recognises:
“It’s interesting to have an Interpro up first in the new season. The players are looking forward to playing full-stop, but the Interpro element adds something a little bit extra. From my point of view, it’s always a big one against Connacht.
“We have the attitude that it’s a great opportunity for us to test what we’ve been doing in pre-season, given what they offer around their line speed, relentless defence, and endless attack. Those are areas that are going to test us.”
Match tickets are still available via the link below. Note that all tickets must be pre-purchased online as none will be available at the turnstiles.
O’Connor named as Captain against Connacht
Alan O’Connor, who is no stranger to leading the charge, will captain the side against Connacht, and is joined in the second row by Sam Carter. Meanwhile, the back row sees brothers, Matty Rea and Marcus Rea, joined by David McCann, who was due to lead out the team that travelled for the cancelled pre-season Glasgow Warriors friendly. The front row sees Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore pair up alongside 21-year-old, Tom Stewart, who was crowned Danske Bank Ulster Schools’ Player of the Year back in 2019, for his first Senior start.
Nathan Doak, who had a 100% kicking record off the tee in a Player of the Match performance last time out against Connacht, is paired at scrum-half with fly-half, Billy Burns. The midfield make-up sees Luke Marshall, who speaks on the 10-year anniversary of the passing of his friend and teammate Nevin Spence in this week’s match programme, alongside Stuart McCloskey who returns from his involvement with Ireland in the New Zealand Test-winning tour.
Jacob Stockdale, who announced his return from injury with a try against Exeter Chiefs, Rob Baloucoune and Stewart Moore complete the starting XV as the back three.
Summer signing Jeff Toomaga-Allen is set to earn his first Ulster cap off the bench. He is joined by fellow forwards John Andrew, Callum Reid, Cormac Izuchukwu and Jordi Murphy. David Shanahan, Angus Curtis and Aaron Sexton provide the backline cover.
The Ulster team, many of whom have personal memories of Nevin Spence, will be wearing black armbands embroidered with ‘Nevin, Graham and Noel’ to mark ten years since gifted young rugby player Nevin tragically passed away in an accident together with his father, Noel, and brother, Graham, on 15 September 2012.
Ulster team to play Connacht, BKT United Rugby Championship Round 1, Saturday 17 September at Kingspan Stadium (KO 7 35pm), live on BBC 2 NI from 7 15pm, TG4, Premier Sports & URC.tv:
(15-9): Stewart Moore, Rob Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, Nathan Doak;
(1-8): Eric O’Sullivan, Tom Stewart, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor (Capt.), Sam Carter, Matty Rea, Marcus Rea, David McCann.
Replacements: John Andrew, Callum Reid, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Cormac Izuchukwu, Jordi Murphy, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, and Aaron Sexton.
The following players were not considered for selection due to being in the Graduated Return to Play process, on the IRFU Player Management Process, or on international duty:
Andrew Warwick; Rob Herring (IRFU PMP); Tom O’Toole (IRFU PMP), Iain Henderson; Nick Timoney (IRFU PMP); Duane Vermeulen (SA Rugby); John Cooney; James Hume; Ben Moxham; Jude Postlethwaite; Will Addison; Ethan McIlroy; and Mike Lowry (IRFU PMP).