The first of the season’s provincial derbies is upon us and fans across Ireland are looking ahead to a weekend of rugby with enthusiasm.
Ahead of the clash between Leinster and Munster on Saturday, there is the equally competitive duel between Ulster and Connacht to look forward to on Friday evening.
Life in the new PRO14 league has provided mixed fortunes for the two sides. Ulster hit the ground running and notched up four impressive victories on the bounce to lay down a marker for the season ahead.
Despite the departure of talisman Ruan Pienaar during the summer, the Belfast-based province turned in the kind of performances that suggested they are once again contenders for silverware this term.
Flying high following a 52 – 25 thumping of the Dragon in round four, a shock 27 – 23 defeat to Zebre in Italy last weekend put the brakes on their runaway train and reminded fans that there is still work to do in order to re-establish the province as one of the big boys of European rugby.
Ahead of their contest with Connacht, Director of Rugby Les Kiss has named a strong side that he will entrust to bounce back from their first defeat of the season in round 5.
Without captain Rory Best, Chris Henry will continue to deputise in the absence of the British and Irish Lions hooker.
Kiss is also without star Springbok Marcell Coetzee for the contest as it was confirmed on Thursday that the flanker has returned to South Africa for special treatment on his injured knee.
Here is how Ulster will line out on Friday.
In contrast to their hosts on Friday, Connacht have struggled so far this term, securing only a single victory from five attempts.
Their sole win came in round two, an assured 32 – 10 win over league new boys the Southern Kings, has been accompanied by narrow defeats to the Cardiff Blues and Scarlets, plus disappointing losses to the Dragons and Glasgow.
Making the journey to the Kingspan Stadium, new boss Kieran Keane will be looking to double their tally of wins and strengthen their fifth-place standing in Conference A of the PRO14 table.
Against a strong home side, Keane and co also face the knowledge that Connacht have not beaten Ulster in Belfast for a whopping 57 years.
Despite the slow start and the tide of history working against them, Keane has named a side that welcomes back the talented trio of Kieran Marmion, John Muldoon and Matt Healy.
They will link up with the likes of Tiernan O’Halloran, Bundee Aki, John Carty, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane and Quinn Roux, collectively making up their strongest line up of the season so far.
Connacht’s full squad details are as follows.
Kick-off in the Kingspan Stadium on Friday is at 7.35, with TV coverage coming courtesy of TG4 from 7.30.