Pro14: Ulster 'underestimate Connacht at their peril' - McWhirter

Connacht ended a 58-year hoodoo by beating Ulster 21-12 in Belfast
Connacht ended a 58-year hoodoo by beating Ulster 21-12 in Belfast in October

BBC Sport NI analyst Tony McWhirter says Ulster would "underestimate Connacht at their peril" as the sides prepare for Saturday's interprovincial Pro14 quarter-final in Belfast.

Ulster finished second in Conference B with Connacht third in Conference A.

"If Ulster don't turn up next week with their 'A' game Connacht could easily turn them over," said McWhirter.

"You should never underestimate a Connacht team that Andy Friend has galvanised and grown this year."

Ulster are competing in the knockout play-off stages for the first time since 2016, the year that Connacht won the competition, then known as the Pro12.

In his first season in charge, Connacht head coach Friend has gone a long way to resurrecting the fortunes of the westerners who finished in a lowly sixth place in Conference A last term.

Their improved form this campaign has seen them clinch home and away wins over Ulster, including a 22-15 victory at Kingspan Stadium in October, which ended a 58-year run without a victory in Belfast.

Fly-half Jack Carty has emerged as a key figure for Connacht
Fly-half Jack Carty has emerged as a key figure for Connacht this season

"Connacht are really strong and have a strong squad with some mighty fine players. You think about Jack Carty at 10 and the player he has developed into," added the former Ulster number eight.

"Andy has moved them away from the Connacht style of old which was to rotate and change players every week. They now have a settled side.

"Having said that I do expect Ulster to win. The history of this competition dictates that the home team wins."

Carty 'X factor'

Former Ulster scrum-half Paul Marshall, also a pundit on BBC Radio Ulster these days, agrees that fly-half Carty poses a major threat to Ulster's hopes of securing a semi-final berth.

"I think Jack Carty is probably the key man for Connacht at the minute. He is in superb form, playing so well," argued Marshall.

"He has a bit of an 'X factor' about him and he is so full of confidence at the minute.

"He can find chinks in a defence and certainly he will be a key man to try and put pressure on.

"What we have seen from Ulster however is a team that has been building character and resolve and consistency throughout the season so hopefully that can continue on Saturday."