Kieran Keane hoping Tiernan O’Halloran deal will inspire Connacht

It’s a fixture which Connacht have only won four times in 29 meetings but coach Kieran Keane is hoping that Tiernan O’Halloran’s decision to remain at the Sportsground will be the start of a great festive period.

Kieran Keane hoping Tiernan O’Halloran deal will inspire Connacht

O’Halloran, linked in some media quarters with a move to Munster to replace Simon Zebo, yesterday signed a two-year contract extension with his native province, following in Kieran Marmion’s footsteps and committing his future to the westerners.

“I am a proud Connacht man and am delighted to be extending my contract with my home province for a further two years,” said the 26-year-old, who has chalked up 138 appearances for his native province.

“The current squad is an ambitious group and we are determined to bring further success to Connacht.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Connacht supporters who have been loyal to me and the entire team season after season.”

Connacht, like Ulster and the other two provinces, head into the new schedule of three festive derbies on the back of successive wins in Europe, but Keane knows Les Kiss’s men will present a much stiffer test than they faced in the Challenge Cup against Brive over the past two weekends.

“Without a doubt they will be a totally different equation from Brive. We know a little bit about Ulster. This modern day game, there is a lot of analysis done. We have got our plans in place. You have to step up to the mark or you are going to get second by some distant. That’s the challenge and I’m pretty sure whoever gets picked in the 23 will take up the baton for that challenge. I would be pretty disappointed if they didn’t.”

Keane has been pleased by a lot of what he saw in the 38-31 win in Brive and then 55-10 at the Sportsground last weekend and he’s looking for further improvement this weekend.

He has made seven changes to the Connacht side that claimed an emphatic bonus point win over the French outfit seven days agao in Galway.

There are four alterations in the backline where Ireland international scrum-half Kieran Marmion comes in with Tom Farrell at inside centre.

O’Halloran starts at full-back while Niyi Adeolokun starts on the right wing and four-try hero from last week, Matt Healy, continues on the left wing.

Up front Denis Coulson starts at loosehead prop with Jarrad Butler returning from injury to start at openside flanker and John Muldoon at No. 8.

Ulster come into this clash on the back of superb Champions Cup wins over Harlequins but it is a much changed side from that which won 52-24 over the Premiership side at Ravenhill last weekend.

Kiss has made eight alterations to his starting 15 for the game, with Darren Cave making his 200th appearance for the province.

Andrew Trimble starts on the left wing, Cave is at inside centre, and Peter Nelson begins at out-half, in a back line where there are just three changes.

There are five alterations up front with Andrew Warwick starting at loosehead prop and John Andrew is at hooker.

Matt Dalton and Robbie Diack form the new look second row with Sean Reidy starting at openside flanker.

Ulster may have won on four of their last five visits to Galway but South African Louis Ludik knows they will face a searching test from a Connacht side they defeated 16-8 at Ravenhill earlier in the campaign.

“It’s very tough. I’ve been here a couple of years now, so I know what the inter-pros are like, they’re tough,” said Ludik.

“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where it is, those games are very tough. There’s a lot of competition between the guys for Ireland jerseys but it’s always fun and great to be a part of.

“We have to take it week by week. Every week is as important as the next.”

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