Billy Burns prepared for Connacht test at Aviva Stadium
As with every clash between the Irish provinces, as well as league points and bragging rights there are always several interesting sub-plots in the personal battle between players in the same position.
Saturday evening’s match between Connacht and Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (5.15pm) is no different.
Normally the players going head-to-head are not only trying to help their province to get a vital win but they want to impress the international coach.
The battle of the out-halves in Dublin could be the key to victory as Ulster’s Billy Burns comes up against Connacht’s Jack Carty and both will have a point to prove after being snubbed by Andy Farrell for his autumn international squad mid-week.
Burns’ preparation for the game will be the same as any other week.
“It is business as usual no matter who we are playing whether it is another province or a team from elsewhere,” stated Burns.
“We still analyse and look into their players as much as we would do for any other game.
“There is a little bit more in it with it being an interpro and we take them a little bit more seriously; they are incredible games to play in and we want to perform well.
“Jack Carty is one of the talisman of their team and we will definitely be looking at ways to try and get to him or try to put him off his game.
“In terms of a head-to-head with myself against him it is very much what I can do for the team.”
Burns starts with Nathan Doak for a fourth consecutive league game and the seven-times capped Ireland out-half has been impressed by the teenager.
“He has been class, I think it was my first pre-season I came in and he was training - I’d hate to think how old how old he was at that point - and you could see he was class for his age.
“He has come in and has trained unbelievably well, he got his opportunity on the back of an injury to John (Cooney) and he has taken it with both hands. Quite often as a 10 you got into games and get put with a younger nine who isn’t so experienced, you have to guide them a little bit but that honestly has not been the case - you’d think he has been playing for at last five or six years at this level. He has got such a level head on him and he has done incredibly well,” he added.
“We are very fortunate here with all our nines and we have great competition and I’m sure that brings the best out of all of them.
“Dave Shanahan probably hasn’t played as much as he would have wanted over the last couple of weeks but he is as equally important to our team and can do the job as well, and we are extremely fortunate those guys have stepped up to the plate.”
Ulster are top of the United Rugby Championship and are the only side to have a maximum 20 points after four rounds.
Dan McFarland is boosted by the return of captain Iain Henderson.
The lock hasn’t played a game since the British Lions’ narrow defeat against South A on July 14 but was still named in the Ireland squad for the three November tests.
Centre Stuart McCloskey and winger Robert Baloucoune have both recovered from injury and return to the starting line-up for the first time since the season-opener.
Ulster: (15-9) Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy, Billy Burns, Nathan Doak; (1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Matty Rea, Nick Timoney, David McCann.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Mike Lowry, Ben Moxham.