Ulster v Connacht (Fri)

Andrew Trimble and Rory Best

Andrew Trimble and Rory Best missed Ulster’s defeat by Glasgow in Scotstoun

Ireland internationals Rory Best, Jared Payne and Andrew Trimble all return to action for Ulster’s key game with Pro12 leaders Connacht in Belfast on Friday.

Trimble and Payne, who plays at full-back, are fit again after missing the defeat by Glasgow while skipper Best comes in for Rob Herring at hooker.

Second row Pete Browne and number eight Roger Wilson replace injured forwards Alan O’Connor and Nick Williams.

Shane O’Leary is handed his first Pro12 start for Connacht at fly-half.


AJ MacGinty sustained a shoulder injury in Saturday’s 7-6 victory over Leinster

Connacht coach Pat Lam has selected the former Grenoble half-back after AJ MacGinty became the third number 10 to be ruled out by injury for the westerners.

USA international McGinty, who will play for Premiership club Sale next season, is likely to be ruled out for four weeks with a shoulder injury sustained in Saturday’s win over Leinster in Galway.

Jack Carty remains on the sidelines after having his spleen removed in February while Craig Ronaldson is out for another three weeks because of an ankle injury.

O’Leary, 23, has made only one Connacht start, which came in a European Challenge Cup game, since joining the club from the French outfit in the summer of 2014.

His eight appearances off the bench include six Pro12 games.


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Ulster Rugby Extra: Nick Williams desperate to play in closing Pro12 games

Ulster lock O’Connor sustained a shoulder injury in last weekend’s disappointing reverse at Scotstoun and is in danger of missing the remainder of the season.

Williams suffered a recurrence of a nagging shoulder problem, and also a groin injury, in the defeat by the defending Pro12 champions.

Stuart Olding and Darren Cave drop to the bench but Irish international Iain Henderson makes his first home appearance since December.

In the absence of Tiernan O’Halloran, who suffered a quad injury in training this week, Robbie Henshaw will line out at full-back for Connacht, while scrum-half John Cooney, on his return from injury, takes over from Kieran Marmion who is also out with a minor quad injury.


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Ulster must throw off shackles in vital Connacht game says Andrew Trimble

Up front, Rodney Ah You comes in for the injured Nathan White while Andrew Browne forms a new second row partnership with Aly Muldowney.

Captain John Muldoon moves to blindside flanker in a back row with Academy player James Connolly and Eoin McKeon, man-of-the-match in last week’s victory at the Sportsground.

Ireland international Ultan Dillane comes onto the bench for his first Connacht game since his involvement in the Six Nations.

Connacht go into Friday’s game with a four-point lead in the table, while Pat Lam’s side are 12 points ahead of fifth-placed Ulster.

Ulster: J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (capt), R Lutton; P Browne, F van der Merwe; I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson.

Replacements: R Herring, K McCall, B Ross, R Diack, S Reidy, P Marshall, S Olding, D Cave.

Connacht: R Henshaw; N Adeolokun, B Aki, P Robb, M Healy; S O’Leary, J Cooney; D Buckley, T McCartney, R Ah You; A Browne, A Muldowney; J Muldoon (capt), J Connolly, E McKeon.

Replacements: D Heffernan, R Loughney, F Bealham, U Dillane, S O’Brien, C Blade, C Brennan, D Poolman.

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