The Ulster coach has decided to rest a number of players so outhalf Ian Humphreys, fullback Stefan Terblanche and prop Tom Court are the only player retained from the side that defeated Munster in last weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter final.
In the backs, Paul Marshall deputises at scrumhalf for Ruan Pienaar who starts as a substitute. There is a new centre combination with Ireland U20 captain Paddy Jackson partnering Nevin Spence. Adam D’Arcy and Ian Whitten replace Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy on the wings, with the latter dropping to the bench after his try of the season contender in Thomond Park.
Up front, Nigel Brady starts as hooker in place of Rory Best and takes over from Johann Muller as captain. Tom Court moves across the scrum to tighthead prop, with Paddy McAllister starting at loosehead. Lewis Stevenson and Neil McComb start together in the second row for the first time. Dynamic trio Mike McComish, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack form an all new back row in place of Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg.
Twenty year old lock Iain Henderson is named on the bench and could make his senior debut if he enters the fray at any stage. His Phoenix Academy colleagues Ali Birch and Michael Allen are also included among the replacements. Callum Black, Andi Kyriacou, Adam Macklin, Pienaar and Gilroy complete the squad.
The game is vital for Ulster’s hopes of finishing in the top four of the RaboDirect PRO12 and a win could send them into second place. They currently occupy fifth spot in the table but are just three points adrift of second placed Ospreys.
If things go to plan for Ulster, it could be the longest season in the club’s history so McLaughlin is aware that he needs to keep his players in peak physical condition. “The Munster match was very physical and a lot of players are still carrying bumps and bruises, so we decided it was best to give some of them a break. It is crucial to look after the players with so many important games coming up before the end of the season. There are opportunities for us to test the water a bit with some of our squad players and it will be exciting to see how they perform.”
One such player is Paddy Jackson, who has been deployed at inside centre rather than his usual outhalf position. McLaughlin said, “We know what Paddy is capable of and we thought this was a perfect chance to try him out at 12 and allow him to add another string to his bow.”
McLaughlin has aldo been impressed with Iain Henderson in recent months and feels he deserves his place on the bench: “Iain had a tremendous 6 Nations campaign with Ireland U20s and he’s been training with us in recent weeks and has done very well. He is a big talent and it is important to give him experience at this level,” he said.
The Ulster coach knows his side face a difficult task against the Westerners, with Ulster being held 15-15 in their previous visit to the Sportsground. “The game in Galway will be huge. They have shown that they are capable of beating anyone on their day, particularly at the Sportsground. It’s one of the toughest places to go in the PRO12 to get a result. But as ever, we are confident we can do just that.”
ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche, Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence, Patrick Jackson, Adam D’Arcy, Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall, Paddy McAllister, Nigel Brady (capt), Tom Court, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack. Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Iain Henderson, Ali Birch, Ruan Pienaar, Craig Gilroy, Michael Allen.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy, Tiernan O’Halloran, Kyle Tonetti, Henry Fa’afili, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy, Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu. Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, Mick Kearney, Johnny O’Connor, Paul O’Donohoe, Matthew Jarvis, Eoin Griffin
As I’d said at the extended squad announcement I would rather have seen more of our front line troops getting battle hardened for the game/s to come but now that I’ve seen the team I must say I’m pretty excited and in fairness it looks a nice mix of seasoned pros and exciting up and coming youngsters.
The most interesting selection, to me anyway is Patrick Jackson at first centre, however when you think about it it makes sence as Paddy J is very similar in style to Paddy W, with quick hands and a great line break.
Whether we win this one or not though will come down to the pack and having changed out all but one of the players (Tom Court) from Sunday it’s going to be a big ask for this rag-taggle bunch to stand up to an early Connacht onslaught. There is nothing that the Westies would like better than to put one over on Ulster, especially after last Sunday’s win, and the pack are going to have to find a steely resistance early on.
The front and second rows should be resilant enough and the winners of this game is going to be decided by the performance of the back rows. On paper it looks well balanced and certainly I’ve been calling for more game time for Faloon and Diack since the start of the season. Unfortunately they have been slightly underwhelming in their appearances with Diack in particular struggling to convert his bulk into yardage. Both Daick and Faloon have plenty to play for. Willie can show his new club the complete package they are going to get next season, and if the fantastically gifted Diack could get suitably down and dirty he has the distinct possibility of forcing his way into the squad for the bigger games as the season draws to a close.
Finally a word for Iain Henderson, the third of our 4 2 Follow youngsters to make it to the senoir side should he get on the pitch at Galway. I see he’s on the bench as cover for secon row but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him coming on in the back row during the game.
Connacht 26-21 Ulster
Despite Patrick Jackson contributing 16 points, Ulster run out of steam in the second half to give the home side a rare win over their northern neighbours.
It was a case of the day after the big parade for Ulster as they failed to find the required intensity to see off Connacht at the Sportsground on Saturday afternoon.
Ulster were slow out of the traps at the Greyhound racetrack and the visitors found themselves down 8 – 0 in the opening 10 minutes with Miah Nikora slootting over a penalty before crossing for a try.
Ian Humphreys missed a few early chances but an injury to the Ulster outhalf, after a late tackle from Ronan Loughney, switched the kicking responsibilities to Patrick Jackson and the youngster responded admirably, slotting over two penalties in quick succession, while Loughney cooled his heals in the bin, to take the score to 8 – 6.
However, once restored to 15 players, Connacht went further ahead with a well taken try by Gavin Duffy but Ulster responded strongly setting up a try for the quick thinking Paul Marshall after good work from the pack though, unfortunately, the diminutive scrum half injured himself in the act of scoring to be replaced moments later by Pienaar. The conversion was good and just before half time a penalty from Jackson gave Ulster a surprising 13 – 16 lead at the break, after doing very little in the first half.
Connacht struck back within minutes of the restart and Tiernan O’Halloran took advantage of a slick pass and a dozing defence to go over in the corner, the conversion was good and the hosts led 20 – 16 but sure enough, in this topsy turvy game, Ulster were back in front ten minutes later with Jackson driven over the line to give Ulster a one point lead.
Unfortunately that was it for the Ulstermen and Connacht dominated the closing quarter. Nikora slotted over a penalty with 20 to go and added another three points when Ulster replacement Ali Birch was binned seven minutes from the end.
The Westies held on reasonably comfortably for their first win over Ulster since 2005.
CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy, Tiernan O’Halloran, Kyle Tonetti, Henry Fa’afili, Fetu’u Vainikolo, Miah Nikora, Frank Murphy, Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa, George Naoupu. Replacements: Denis Buckley for Wilkinson 11, Johnny O’Connor for Ofisa 13, Paul O’Donohoe for Murphy 70, Eoin Griffin for Fa’afili 55.
ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche, Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence, Patrick Jackson, Adam D’Arcy, Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall, Paddy McAllister, Nigel Brady (capt), Tom Court, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack. Replacements: Andi Kyriacou for Brady 68, Callum Black for McAllister 68, Adam Macklin for Court 56, Iain Henderson for McComb 74, Ali Birch for Daick 55, Ruan Pienaar for Marshall 37, Craig Gilroy for Humphreys 56.
We are very disappointed with the result. We had a few opportunities but weren’t clinical enough, and we conceded a few soft scores that ultimately cost us the game. You can’t come to a place like this and not perform to your maximum.
You can’t fault the effort from the players; we fought tooth and nail until the end. They put everything into it and we came back into the game exceptionally well, but we made some basic errors with ball in hand and showed indiscipline at times. Then they gained the upper hand and managed to close the game out.
On a positive note, we are coming away with a losing bonus point and that still keeps us in the hunt for a play off spot. We will have to wait and see on how results go this weekend and over the next few weeks.
It was good to see some of the younger players coming in and performing well at this level. We are building a squad capable of competing at a high level in two competitions and games like this will stand us in good stead in the future.
We will go into next week’s game against Leinster needing a win if we are to be in with a chance of making the play offs. We have a proud record at Ravenhill and hopefully we can get a positive result next Friday. We can’t afford to think about the Heineken Cup semi final at this stage, our main priority is Leinster.
Despite the result there weren’t too many disappointed faces for too long at the Sportsground, and following last weeks euphoria this was always going to be a difficult game for a variety of reasons.
There were some good points in the performance, most noticeably the way young Patrick Jackson grew into the game after a shaky enough start. The young man definitely possesses a sound boot and a good eye for the break adding another try to his total this season.
Don’t think he’s done enough to put pressure on Humphreys for the Heineken Cup spot but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start at 10 next weekend with Humphreys being rested following a number of knocks during this game.
Jackson and Humphreys were targeted during the opening exchanges and, while plenty will argue that Jackson has a better defence than Humphreys, it has to be remembered that Jackson is not as familiar with the defensive patterns that were demonstrated so ably at Thomond and I can’t see that changing in the next couple of weeks.
I’m afraid the game was a bit of a howler for the much admired (on these pages anyway) Robbie Diack. He was exposed a couple of times in defence and turned the ball over too easily in attack, which was a great pity. If anyone has played his way out of contention it is the amiable Diack, who’s just going to have to put this season behind him and start looking forward to the next!
Pleased to see young Henderson get a run at the end for his first cap. Didn’t have much time on the pitch but looked busy enough. I do think he needs to be placed in the back row if we are to see the best of him.
Pictures from the day below:
TABLES AND RESULTS
|Week 20 Results|
|Fri 13 Apr||19:30||Dragons||32 – 33||Treviso||Rodney Parade|
|Fri 13 Apr||19:45||Leinster||54 – 13||Edinburgh||Royal Dublin Society|
|Sat 14 Apr||17:15||Connacht||26 – 21||Ulster||Sportsground|
|Sat 14 Apr||18:30||Blues||12 – 33||Ospreys||Cardiff City Stadium|
|Sat 14 Apr||19:15||Munster||35 – 29||Warriors||Musgrave Park|
|Sun 15 Apr||15:05||Aironi||23 – 26||Scarlets||Stadio Zaffanella|
|As they stand.|
|8||Newport Gwent Dragons||20||7||1||12||340||421||-81||25||36||1||4||35|
It could well come down to beating Munster in Thomond on 5th May! With Scarlets back in the running this afternoon, after an expected win against the departing Aironi, it looks like perm any two from Ulster, Munster, Glasgow and Scarlets for the final two spots for the play offs and in all honesty Ulster look to have the hardest run in.
|Fri 20 Apr||19:05||Ulster||v||Leinster||Ravenhill|
|Sat 21 Apr||18:30||Scarlets||v||Munster||Parc y Scarlets|
|Sun 22 Apr||15:05||Treviso||v||Warriors||Stadio di Monigo|
|Sat 5 May||19:30||Warriors||v||Connacht||Firhill Stadium|
|Sat 5 May||19:30||Munster||v||Ulster||Thomond Park Stadium|
|Sat 5 May||19:30||Scarlets||v||Blues||Parc y Scarlets|