Ulster have released the team details for Friday nights Heineken Cup match against Aironi.
The starting XV for the the Heineken Cup opener at Ravenhill shows just two changes from the side which defeated Glasgow last weekend.
Ian Humphreys comes in at out-half to replace Niall O’Connor and makes his first start of the season while the only other change in personnel is in the second row, where Tim Barker starts this week ahead of Dan Tuohy who is named on the bench.
Prop BJ Botha, who sustained a wrist injury against Connacht in Round 4 of the Magners League, was named in the extended squad but suffered a set-back earlier in the week and has consequently not been included.
Ulster kick off against Aironi at 7.30pm this Friday night at Ravenhill. Gates open at 6pm and tickets will be available to purchase on the night.
ULSTER (15-9): Jamie Smith; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar (1-8) Bryan Young, Rory Best (Captain), Tom Court, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack
Replacements (16-23) Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Alan Whitten, Dan Tuohy, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine
So the worst kept secret is finally out and as expected Humphreys makes his first start of the season.
A player who seems to polarise the views of the Ulster supporter like no other, I’m sure he can feel the huge weight of expectation on his shoulders as half the crowd expect him to win the game single handedly and the other half expect him to fail miserably.
There certainly does seem to be more expectation and excitement around this one than there was last week for Pienaar’s debut.
As for myself I just hope he is allowed to play his natural game and I will be very intrigued to see how he slots in with Pienaar. Certainly with the South African, iHumph and Paddy in tandem, or should that be triodem, the Italian side should be given plenty to think about.
Irrespective of who calls the shots, one thing is clear, Ulster need to get a bonus point win out of this game. A minimum of six points is required from this game and the Biarritz game and, as I see Bath as the toughest oponents at the minute, its more likey nine points required if we are to progress as group winners.
So the trio of tricksters are going to need to gel and gel pretty quickly or it could be another “nearly” season.
I think they will and I predict Ulster to win by 30.