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Ulster v Connacht - RaboDirect PRO12 match preview
Table-toppers Ulster host Connacht in an inter-pro derby at Ravenhill in what promises to be an emotional occasion.
The clash will mark Ulster's first home game since the passing of centre Nevin Spence, who was killed along with his brother and their father in a farming tragedy.
Mark Anscombe's side will be aiming to make it five RaboDirect PRO12 wins on the bounce this season having made their best-ever start to a campaign.
Anscombe has made four changes to the starting team. Ireland hooker Rory Best has returned to fitness and will play for his province for the first time since the Heineken Cup final in May. Johann Muller (captain), Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace are all called into the starting XV.
Prop Declan Fitzpatrick had also been called into the starting XV but has since withdrawn after aggravating a medial ligament injury in training on Thursday morning, with John Afoa starting in his place.
Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has made four changes to his starting XV following the 34-6 win over Leinster last time.
Up front, Denis Buckley makes way for Brett Wilkinson as loosehead prop while Ronan Loughney, who last week was called up to the Irish training squad, returns at tighthead.
Elsewhere in the pack, Dave Gannon replaces Eoin McKeon as blindside flanker. Gannon is joined in the back-row by former Ulster flanker Willie Faloon, who will captain Connacht.
There are no changes to the backs with Dan Parks making his second appearance for the province as fly-half. Try scorers from last week Tiernan O'Halloran and Fetu'u Vainikolo start again on the wing while the centre partnership is Eoin Griffin and Dave McSharry.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johan Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court. Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Craig Gilroy.
Connacht: 15 Robbie Henshaw, 14 Tiernan O'Halloran, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Dave McSharry, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 George Naoupu, 7 Willie Faloon (capt), 6 Dave Gannon, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Michael Swift, 3 Ronan Loughney, 2 Adrian Flavin, 1 Brett Wilkinson. Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Denis Buckley, 18 Nathan White, 19 John Muldoon, 20 Johnny O'Connor, 21 Dave Moore, 22 Miah Nikora, 23 Mata Fifita.
What they said...
Ulster winger Tommy Bowe
"The first game back at Ravenhill is obviously going to be a fairly emotional match I think for the supporters and for the players and hopefully we'll do Nevin justice."
Connacht head coach Eric Elwood
"We're very proud of the way we played on Friday but the big test now is to ensure we can play like that against Ulster this week and on a regular basis throughout the season."
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Guinness PRO12 Table
|Friday 26th December|
|14:05||Cardiff Blues vs Dragons|
|17:00||Munster vs Leinster|
|18:45||Ulster vs Connacht|
|Saturday 27th December|
|14:40||Glasgow Warriors vs Edinburgh|
|17:15||Ospreys vs Scarlets|
|Sunday 28th December|
|14:00||Zebre vs Treviso|
|Thursday 1st January|
|14:05||Newport Gwent D'gons vs Cardiff Blues|
|17:00||Connacht vs Munster|
|Friday 2nd January|
|19:35||Edinburgh vs Glasgow Warriors|
|Saturday 3rd January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Zebre|
|14:40||Leinster vs Ulster|
|17:05||Scarlets vs Ospreys|
|Friday 9th January|
|19:35||Connacht vs Edinburgh|
|19:35||Glasgow vs Scarlets|
|Saturday 10th January|
|14:40||Cardiff Blues vs Leinster|
|15:00||Zebre vs Munster|
|Sunday 11th January|
|14:00||Treviso vs Ulster|
|16:00||Ospreys vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|Wednesday 14th January|
|TBC||Leinster vs Newport Gwent D'gons|
|TBC||Scarlets vs Connacht|
|TBC||Edinburgh vs Ospreys|
|TBC||Ulster vs Benetton Treviso|
|TBC||Zebre vs Glasgow|
|TBC||Munster vs Cardiff Blues|
|Saturday 21st February|
|TBC||Benetton Treviso vs Cardiff Blues|
|Sunday 21st December|
|Dragons 25 - 11 Zebre|
|Saturday 20th December|
|Ospreys 31 - 20 Ulster|
|Glasgow Warriors 21 - 18 Munster|
|Friday 19th December|
|Cardiff Blues 21 - 9 Scarlets|
|Edinburgh 48 - 0 Treviso|
|Leinster 21 - 11 Connacht|
|Sunday 30th November|
|Glasgow Warriors 19 - 15 Dragons|
|Saturday 29th November|
|Connacht 14 - 8 Scarlets|
|Leinster 18 - 12 Ospreys|
|Zebre 18 - 10 Edinburgh|
|Friday 28th November|
|Cardiff Blues 36 - 25 Treviso|
|Munster 21 - 20 Ulster|
|Sunday 23rd November|
|Edinburgh 28 - 13 Cardiff Blues|
|Treviso 24 - 24 Leinster|
|Friday 21st November|
|Ulster 25 - 16 Ospreys|
|Connacht 43 - 3 Zebre|
|Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow Warriors|
|Dragons 12 - 38 Munster|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com