Will Addison returns from a four-week suspension for Ulster who are on a mission to avenge last year’s home loss to Connacht.
Ulster are unbeaten at home in Kingspan Stadium since the PRO14 defeat by Connacht in October 2018 — and they’ve recalled all the big guns for tonight’s big inter-pro derby in Belfast.
Addison was banned for an incident in Ulster’s Champions Cup win over Clermont and is one of 13 changes to the starting team that lost at Leinster last weekend.
Only Matty Rea and Alan O’Connor remain, while Caolin Blade, who has started all of Connacht’s PRO14 games this season, will captain the side from scrum-half.
Connacht head coach Andy Friend has made five changes from last week’s defeat by Munster. Peter Robb, Matt Healy, and former Ulster player Paddy McAllister come into the side having missed last week’s game in Galway through injury.
Ulster head coach Dan McFarland made the transition from player to assistant coach in 2010 at Connacht and admitted that losing home and away to his former team last year really hurt.
“There is that thing definitely when you play against a team you’ve been at before, you don’t want to lose to them,” said Ulster’s head coach.
“You don’t want to lose to anybody, but it seems just a fraction more hurtful when it’s them (Connacht).
More so, it’s an inter-provincial game at home in front of your fans. It’s painful for the lads to lose those games and I think we all feel that — and I don’t want it to happen again.
Ulster came out the wrong side of a high-scoring, chaotic 14-try thriller against Leinster at the RDS last weekend.
Robert Balacoune and Louis Ludik are back on the wings in what is a strong line-up for Ulster, who are second in their conference behind Leinster.
“Connacht will be pretty disappointed they lost to Munster last week and they have got tough games coming up against Leinster, Toulouse, and Montpellier.
“It will be really important for them to play well against us.”
Matching Connacht in the set-piece and playing with significant pace to their game is what McFarland wants to see from his Ulster side.
“I’d like to see us be able to move the ball, because when we do, we look really good, and in order to do that we have got to create fast ball.
“They compete really hard at the breakdown, so we have make sure we do our job in clearing them out in that area and it’s really important we create tempo in our game.
“If we can do that, we know we are threatening, we can score a lot of tries.”