Ulster must be on the ball for my last hurrah: Henry
Departing winger Henry Speight has warned Ulster not to have chilled out too much over Christmas as they prepare for tonight's clash with Irish provincial rivals Connacht in Galway (kick-off 7.35pm).
Speight, who joined Ulster over the summer on a short-term contract, plays his last game for the province this evening ahead of returning to Australia for the New Year and to Super Rugby franchise the Brumbies.
"We cannot afford to have switched off over Christmas week and if we have done that, we will get a hard time there in Galway," said the 30-year-old Australia international, who starts on the wing in his final appearance for the province.
Meanwhile, in-form Ulster play their final game of 2018 without Academy winger Robert Baloucoune who received a two-week ban yesterday after being cited for a dangerous tackle last week on Munster's Darren Sweetnam in the victory at Kingspan Stadium.
The 21-year-old from Enniskillen was shown a yellow card for the first minute incident and, after returning from the bin, went on to score a try in Ulster's 19-12 win as they racked up a fourth straight victory in all competitions.
Fellow Academy winger Angus Kernohan comes in for Baloucoune in a side containing four changes to the one which defeated Munster seven days ago at Kingspan Stadium.
Nick Timoney, Johnny McPhillips and Darren Cave are the others brought in to start by Ulster head coach Dan McFarland.
Ulster lost at home to Connacht back in October — the first time the western province had triumphed in Belfast since 1960 — and they have not tasted victory in Galway over their hosts since Boxing Day in 2015.
Regarding Baloucoune, in upholding the citing, the disciplinary committee’s ruling stated his offence merited a ‘low end-range entry point’ of four weeks.
That was halved to two weeks because of his clean disciplinary record and after his admission that he deserved a red card.
He is free to play again from midnight on Sunday, January 6.
As he returns to the familiar setting of the Sportsground, McFarland — who was both a former player and assistant coach at Connacht — has handed McPhillips a rare start at out-half, while Cave and Kernohan have also been drafted into a side without Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale.
Rob Herring is once again skipper as Best doesn’t make the trip, and there is no sign of Stockdale, with both in the frame for next week’s trip to Leinster.
Adam McBurney is on the bench to back up Herring while Tommy O’Hagan looks set to make his senior debut at loose-head prop should Eric O’Sullivan need to be taken off.
The shortage of fit locks again means that Clive Ross covers the second row behind the starting pair of Kieran Treadwell and the on-loan Ian Nagle.