Stephen Ferris, Rory Best, Tom Court and Andrew Trimble all return to the squad, having missed the win over Munster at the weekend because of their involvement in an Ireland training camp. Fellow Irish International Paddy Wallace has recovered from tendon damage to his thumb and is fit enough to be named in the provisional squad. Young outhalf Paddy Jackson has also returned from injury and is in contention for a place in the match day 23.Prop Paddy McAllister and fullback Peter Nelson picked up injuries in the Munster match and are ruled out. They join Jared Payne, Nevin Spence, Declan Fitzpatrick and Mike McComish on the sidelines.
Edinburgh have won just one of their last four games in the RaboDirect PRO12; 50-10 at home to Aironi on 2nd December. The Scots have shown good form at Murrayfield over the past few months, losing only one of their last seven encounters in all competitions. That was a 28-36 defeat to table-topping Leinster on 28th October.
Ulster have lost only one of their last five matches in all competitions, that came at the RDS on the 26th December with a 13-42 loss to Leinster. Edinburgh’s solo victory in their last four encounters with Ulster came in their last meeting, on 22nd October 2010 at Murrayfield.
Forwards: Callum Black, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, John Afoa, Jerry Cronin, Andi Kyriacou, Nigel Brady, Rory Best, Lewis Stevenson, Johann Muller (captain), Dan Tuohy, Tim Barker, Neil McComb, Stephen Ferris, Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Ali Birch, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack
Backs: Paul Marshall, Ruan Pienaar, Ian Porter, Ian Humphreys, Paddy Jackson, James McKinney, Paddy Wallace, Ian Whitten, Darren Cave, Stefan Terblanche, Craig Gilroy, Simon Danielli, Chris Cochrane, Conor Gaston, Andrew Trimble, Adam D’Arcy
Unavailable due to injury:
Declan Fitzpatrick, Jared Payne, Nevin Spence, Paddy McAllister, Michael McComish, Peter Nelson
Three big games coming up before a break and it’s highly likely that McLaughlin will want to keep the same squad for all three, barring injuries. There are twenty days between matches after the Clermont game so we shouldn’t worry too much about our players over-fatiguing themselves!
So expect to start with:
Court, Best, Afoa, Tuohy, Muller, Ferris, Henry, Wannenburg, Pienaar, Humphreys, Gilroy, Whitten, Cave, Trimble, D’Arcy with Wallace coming off the bench in the second half for Whitten with a view to Wallace starting for the Heineken Cup games and Whitten/Spence benching.
Black, Macklin and Kyriacou should provide front row cover, until McAllister returns and Stevenson should close out the second row berth. Faloon or Diack are the options for the back row and in all likelyhood they will go with Diack’s bulk though I personally would have them both playing and try and force a more open game but that’s another story!
Paul Marshall at scrum half with Paddy and Terblanche covering everything else.
With the big names back and if Ferris stays fit then Ulster have the capability to win all three matches but it’s all going to depend, as always, on the pack fronting up and giving the backs quick, front foot, ball.