Connacht The Canny Bet At Ravenhill
Ulster v Connacht
The second all-Ireland St. Stephen’s day clash sees Connacht take on Ulster at Ravenhill.
Ulster have been in patchy form in the Pro 12 this season. They had a slow start, losing two of their opening games, including a shock defeat against Zebre, then put together a run of four wins, which took them to the top of the table, before defeats against Munster and Ospreys stalled their momentum. They go into this game having won just one of their last four in all competitions.
After finishing tenth in the Pro 12 last season, Connacht are faring much better in their second season under Pat Lam. They kicked off their league campaign with three straight wins and although they have lost three since, they are still in the top half of the table, just four points behind Ulster. Their recent run of four wins in all competitions came to an end with a hard-fought defeat at Leinster last weekend.
Ulster winger Craig Gilroy was rested for the trip for Wales and may start this weekend, but scrum-half Ruan Pienaar suffered a twisted knee in the defeat to Ospreys and although a scan revealed no long term injury, he may not be fit enough to face Connacht. That would be a blow to a side that is already missing key players including Chris Henry, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne and Iain Henderson.
Connacht’s injury problems are not as significant as Ulster’s but they may be without back row Eoin McKeon, who sprained a knee ligament in the defeat by Leinster. They’ll also be missing Tiernan O’Halloran, who underwent knee surgery this week, and fellow winger Fionn Carr who suffered a concussion against Bayonne, but second row Andrew Browne is in line to return after his recovery from a knee injury.
Head to Head
Connacht have usually been the weakest of the Irish sides in the Pro 12 and have lost twelve of their last thirteen all-Ireland matches, so it is not surprising to find that they have a poor record against Friday’s opponents.
These two provincial rivals have met sixteen times since 2005 and Connacht have only won once, a 26-21 victory at the Sportsground in April 2012. Their record away from home is even worse, having failed to register a victory in Belfast since 1960.
In the same fixture last year, Ulster completed a double over Connacht with a thumping 58-12 win, during which the home side ran in eight tries.
The home side are badly affected by injuries and have slipped down the Pro12 table in recent weeks, and with a victory over Leinster under their belts already this season, Connacht will fancy their chance of causing another shock in Belfast. The absence of Ruan Pienaar would give them a good chance, but even if they do fall short of the win, they are a good bet to push the home side close and are worth backing with a +9 point start. Go with Connacht +9 at 10/11 in the Match Handicap market.