Ulster announced the squad yesterday for the Ospreys match on Friday. The squad sees the return of Tom Court and Paddy Wallace who should see substantial game time, if not the full 80 minutes.
Rather than an actual match squad it reads more like a list of who is available to play the only major omission being and who surprisingly doesn’t appear in the squad or in the list of injured?
Anyway, it reads as follows :
Forwards: Tom Court, Paddy McAllister, Bryan Young, Declan Fitzpatrick, Adam Macklin, Rory Best, Nigel Brady, Andy Kyriacou, Tim Barker, Johann Muller, Ryan Caldwell, Willie Faloon, TJ Anderson, Robbie Diack, Stephen Ferris, Pedrie Wannenburg
Backs: Adam Darcy, David McIlwaine, Nevin Spence, Mark McCrea, Tommy Seymour, Jonny Shiels, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Paddy Wallace, Ian Humphreys, Niall O’Connor, Ian Porter, Paul Marshall
Players not considered due to injury: Andrew Trimble, Simon Danielli, Jamie Smith, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, David Pollock, Bryn Cunningham
Players not considered due to Tri-Nations duty: Ruan Piennar, BJ Botha
So from that I’d go with the following.
(1 – 8 ) Young, Best, Court, Barker, Muller, Ferris, Faloon, Diack. (9 – 15) Porter, O’Connor, Seymour, Wallace, Cave, McCrea, Darcy. (16 – 23) Kyriacou, McAllister, Fitzpatrick, Caldwell, Wannenburg, Marshall, Humphreys, Spence.
Starting with the front row, it’s a tough call on Fitzpatrick who has been impressive in the pre-season but I think Court has to spend this season in tight head heaven if he’s going to maximise his potential, less of the swapping around it’s time to consolidate his craft!
In the second row Muller is a walk in and Barker has performed well in partnership with the South African. A few more big games and he’s going to be hard to shift even for Dan the Man when he returns.
The back row is probably the most controversial with Diack selected ahead of Wannenburg giving, in my opinion, a better balance to the back row. While it was fun watching Stevie and Pedrie a biffin’ and a bashin’ all comers in the opening twenty minutes it’s not really a viable strategy and if it were to continue we’ll have neither player available at the business end of the season so I’d limit the mileage on these monster trucks and rotate on a game by game basis. (I’d do the same with Faloon and Pollock and Henry and Diack to tell the truth, if and when Henry and Pollock return to action.)
At half back I’m going with Porter and O’Connor as they’ve simply been the best combination we’ve seen so far. Hard on the vastly improved Marshall who had worked his way to the top of the list only to get bounced back down again through injury but he’ll get another chance. iHumph just hasn’t been at it this season but I think he’ll work best with Pienaar so he’s probably happy enough to bide his time.
On the wings I’ve gone with the biggest units available in Seymour and McCrea. McCrea has to make up for lost time after last season and deserves a run in possession and with Gilroy joining the injury list and Spence and Shiels just looking uncomfortable on the wing Seymour has to grab this opportunity with both hands.
At full back I’ve gone with, the now practically sainted, Darcy who’s potential has been blown out of all proportion after a couple of runs against Leeds. His defence will be fully tested against the O’s so we’ll get a better look at him this weekend. However local youngster David McIlwaine has already underwent more intense scrutiny defending behind a beaten pack at The Stoop so his inclusion at the expense of Darcy wouldn’t be a surprise.
The mention of beaten pack brings me to my main concern from the pre-season workouts in that we’ve been a beaten pack for 2 ¼ of those matches and that has to be worrying. While there have been some good individual performances from Wannenburg, Best and Fitzpatrick in particular it has been disappointing that collectively the intensity has not been evident, particularly against Harlequins and Bath. Irrespective of which starting XV that they decide to go with they are going to need to bring that intensity out or it’s going to be a long old night against the Ospreys.
Supporters will notice a few changes around the place when they enter Ravenhill this Friday night. The main concourse area has been transformed as it’s out with the cars and in with a food village! There are six or seven new catering options to tickle the taste buds ahead of kick-off and there’ll also be some live entertainment from samba band, A-Freek-A to help build up the atmosphere.
Tickets for Friday’s match are available to pre-purchase from www.ulsterrugby.com or the Ravenhill Ticket Office on 028 90 493222.