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McLaughlin expects exciting finale for Ulster

Ian Humphreys has been given the thumbs up for Ulster’s final game of the season.

The fly-half, who recently celebrated his 28th birthday, is one of two changes to the line-up which started against Edinburgh last time out.

Having come off the bench to produce a match-changing performance, Humphreys’ reward is that he swaps places with Niall O’Connor for tonight’s Ravenhill meeting with Connacht (7.30).

The only other change sees Chris Henry replace injured Stephen Ferris (broken cheekbone) on the blindside flank.

Coach Brian McLaughlin said: “We want to build on our performance against Edinburgh and achieve back to back wins to end the season on a high.

“Connacht are coming here full of confidence and it’s Michael's (Bradley) last game, so they will also be chasing the win.

“It will be a really tough game of rugby and an exciting finale.”

The Connacht team shows four changes from that which lost narrowly to Toulon in the semi-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup last Friday night.

Britna Tuohy takes over on the right-wing, Ronan Loughney starts at loosehead, Bernie Upton returns in the second row and Mike McComish will pack down on the openside.

Just how Connacht will react to last week’s disappointment remains to be seen, though there is a very strong possibility that they will view tonight as an opportunity to make a point after running Ulster so close in the race for the third Irish place in next season’s Heineken Cup.

The westerners, who fielded an understrength side against Scarlets two weeks ago and suffered a 58-10 drubbing as a result, will still be reflecting ruefully on the events of April 25 and on the fact that having then exited from the Amlin Cup too, they fell painfully between two stools.

Their hefty defeat in Llanelli, coupled with Ulster’s excellent five-try victory over Edinburgh later that afternoon, saw Connacht forfeit their chance of a seat at European club rugby’s top table next autumn.

It also means that tonight’s interpro has been robbed of the status of a crucial all-Irish play-off.

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McLaughlin, however, dismissed any suggestion that it is now a case of fixture fulfilment.

“I’m a winner through and through and those who know me well know I hate losing. So it doesn’t matter who we’re playing.

“This match is important for me and it’s important for the players,” he said.

“We complained bitterly that we didn’t kick on after Bath, so having got an excellent win against Edinburgh we have to kick on this time so that we go into the pre-season confident and knowing that we’re moving forward.

“We also want to win for our fans who have been magnificent all through the year.”

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