Brian McLaughlin has named his starting team and replacements for the away fixture against Treviso on Saturday (kick off 3.15pm GMT).
Ulster have been boosted by Johann Muller (calf) and Darren Cave (foot) returning to action after two months on the sidelines. Muller has not featured since the Heineken Cup clash with Clermont on 21st January, while Cave has been unavailable since the previous week against Leicester.
Ian Humphreys has been recalled to the starting XV so Ruan Pienaar switches back to scrumhalf at the expense of Paul Marshall. Cave will partner Paddy Wallace at centre, while the back three of Stefan Terblanche, Craig Gilroy and Adam D’Arcy is unchanged from the last outing against Edinbugh.
Up front, Tom Court has returned from International duty and will join Andi Kyriacou and John Afoa in the front row, with Muller partnering Dan Tuohy in the engine room once again. Pedrie Wannenburg has been ruled out by illness so the back row is made up by Chris Henry, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack.
Ireland players Andrew Trimble, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris have been rested after starting every Six Nations game.
Ulster have had two weekends without a game, following the 38-16 win over Edinbugh at the beginning of the month. McLaughlin feels this will have a positive rather than negative effect on his charges: “The players are feeling rejuvenated after a few weeks off. We are into the final phase of the season now and all the games are vital so it’s important they feel fresh. We want to claim a playoff spot in the PRO12 and we also have Europe on the horizon so it’s easy to get the players motivated.”
The break between matches has also provided Cave and Muller with more time to overcome thir respective injuries and McLaughlin is delighted to have them back: “Johann is a superb leader and it’s always great to have him available. He is a great lineout forward and he will lift others around him with his presence.
“We felt that Darren deserved a chance to come back in and show what he can do because he was playing really well before the injury. We are very strong in the centres and Ian (Whitten) and Nevin (Spence) have done a tremendous job over the past couple of months so it was a tough decision.”
Commenting on the return of Ian Humphreys to the starting line-up, the Ulster coach said: “We looked at Paul and Ruan as our half backs but when Ian is on form, he is the best organiser in the team and he really gets us going and helps us play the brand of rugby we want to play.”
He concluded: “Pedrie has been ruled out due to illness but we expect him to be back for next week against Aironi. It will be important to have everyone fit and available going into the business end of the season.”
Ulster: Adam D’Arcy, Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Stefan Terblanche, Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar, Tom Court, Andi Kyriacou, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack. Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Louis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence
Unavailable: Jarred Payne (achilles), Declan Fitzpatrick (neck), Simon Danielli (hamstring), Mike McComish (concussion), Pedrie Wannenburg (illness), Rory Best, Andrew Trimble, Stephen Ferris.
Treviso: Brendan Williams, Tommaso Iannone, Alberto Sgarbi, Gonzalo Garcia, Ludovico Nitoglia, Kristopher Burton, Edoardo Gori, Michele Rizzo, Enrico Ceccato, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello (captain), Corniel Van Zyl, Manoa Vosawai, Alessandro Zanni, Robert Barbieri. Replacements: Franco Sbaraglini, Matteo Muccignat, Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, Valerio Bernabò, Francesco Minto, Gonzalo Padrò, Fabio Semenzato, Alberto Di Bernardo.
A couple of changes to the starting XXIII from what we predicted. Pedrie is poorly, probably after spending too much time counting the money for his new contract, which, in my opinion gives us a better ballanced back row of Henry, Faloon and Diack. Mind you it’s still one that has to produce the business this season but if Ulster opt to play an open attacking game it should do OK.
Poor old Tom Court (I think that precursor will stick with him for a while yet!) gets an immediate shot at redemption and I hope he has an absolute stormer in the scrums, thus nullifying most of Treviso’s attacking threat. It’s a big enough challenge for Tom but everyting points towards him having the brains and the ability to come out on top.
In the back line it looks as though the Dungannon boys have been released, at long last, for some AIL action so Cochrane doesn’t make the XXIII as I predicted so the back three remains the same with D’Arcy keeping the full back berth and Terblanche providing extra cover on the wing.
Humphreys reclaims his rightful spot at out half and as they say above, he is head and shoulders the best option when he is on form, sure three big games and he’ll be back to being the new messiah. In my book Humph the younger is one of the players that the Munsters fear the most, they just don’t know how to play him when he’s on form, so let’s hope the wayward genius starts to sparkle, as well as making his tackles!
Young Henderson didn’t make the cut with the bulk of McComb preferred as back row replacement. Considering the amount of work Henderson put in during the RBS U20′s Six Nations it’s probably the right call though, AIL1B table topping, Belfast Harlequins might not be so happy about losing their talisman at the business end of their season.
Quite a few predicting a close one on Saturday, and Treviso could justifiably lay claim to the most improved team in the PRO12, but I’ve a feeling that Ulster will pull a big performance out of the bag and secure a five pointer. Let’s hope everything clicks.
The game will be shown live in The Errigle Inn on Saturday afternoon upstairs on the big screens. The Errigle have been providing great coverage of Ulster and Ireland throughout the season and are certainly worthy of the supporters, er well, support, so get along and create your own atmosphere. They will also be having a draw for two pairs of tickets for the Munster QF, details here, so you’ve no reason not to make an afternoon of it.