Brian McLaughlin has made four personnel and three positional changes for Ulster’s important RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Cardiff on Friday (kick off 7.05pm).
Paddy Wallace, Tom Court and Chris Henry have been released from Ireland duty and they go straight into the starting XV along with Nigel Brady, who replaces Andi Kyriacou. Brady, Court and John Afoa form the front row, while Lewis Stevenson and Dan Tuohy continue their partnership at lock with captain Johann Muller still sidelined through injury.
Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack get another chance in the back row, where they are joined by stand-in skipper Chris Henry. Mike McComish makes way despite a robust performance in the win over Dragons last weekend.
The return of Wallace at inside centre results in a number of positional changes across the backline. Nevin Spence moves out one to wear the no13 jersey, with Ian Whitten moving to the wing and Stefan Terblanche starting at fullback.
Ulster have plenty of options from the bench, with Paul Marshall, Simon Danielli and Adam D’Arcy all capable of changing the course of the game. McLaughlin commented:
With Chris (Henry), Tom (Court) and Paddy (Wallace) coming back in it means certain people miss out. It shows the strength of the squad that we are building when players like Mike (McComish) and Adam (D’Arcy), who have proved themselves at this level, aren’t in the team. But that provides challenges for those players and for everyone else in the squad. The competition for places should motivate the players to continue improving.
This is a very important match for us given the position the two teams occupy in the league. There isn’t much between us so I suppose you could say it’s an 8-pointer. But we’re playing well at the minute and if we play like we have done over the past few weeks, we have a good chance of coming back with the result.
“We’re a confident side now and we know we can beat anyone on our day. There is a good atmosphere amongst the squad and the management and we feel we’re moving forward. We will continue to push towards our goals and a win on Friday would be another step forward in terms of qualification for the PRO12 play offs.
Ulster (15-9): Stefan Terblanche, Craig Gilroy, Nevin Spence, Paddy Wallace, Ian Whitten, Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar. (1-8): Tom Court, Nigel Brady, John Afoa, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry (capt), Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack. (16-23): Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Tim Barker, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Simon Danielli, Adam D’Arcy
Cardiff (15-9): Ben Blair, Richard Mustoe, Gavin Evans, Gavin Henson, Tom James , Dan Parks, Lloyd Williams. (1-8): John Yapp, Ryan Tyrell, Scott Andrews, Cory Hill, Paul Tito (c), Michael Paterson, Josh Navidi, Xavier Rush. (16-23): Rhys Thomas, Nathan Trevett, Ryan Harford, Maama Molitika, Martyn Williams, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Chris Czekaj
A useful enough Cardiff side, but not great. I must be getting old though as their bench looks quite strong!
Ulster have announced pretty much what we expected the only variation with out Tuesday afternoon special being Spence beside Paddy instead of Whitten. Maybe a sign of intransigence from the coach as Whitten has definitely been playing the better rugby this season and at the moment is adding quite a bit more culture than the abrasive Spence. Young Nevin is “World Class” at the restarts though so it’s more than likely this that is giving him the nod.
Looking at the teams you would expect Ulster to dominate this one up front and in the backs, but we are never at our best when we get a few of the international bench warmers back so really this one could go either way.
The toss of the coin comes down in favour of a Cardiff win in a scrappy match. Let’s hope I’m wrong.