Brian McLaughlin has named an extended squad as Ulster prepare for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 fixture against Connacht at the Sportsground (kick off 5.15pm).
All players involved in Sunday’s historic Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster have been included in the panel. McLaughlin used the starting XV for the duration of what was an extremely physical game, but the Ulster medical staff have reported no fresh injuries.
Jared Payne, Simon Danielli, Chris Cochrane and Tim Barker continue to be the only players ruled out through injury.
Connacht have lost their last ten encounters with fellow Irish provinces since drawing with Ulster in September 2010. They have not beaten Ulster since a 22-12 success at the Sportsground in 2005.
Ulster have won their last five matches in all competitions and are the form team in the PRO12, having collected 31 points from a possible 40 in their last 8 games.
Those results have propelled them to 5th in the standings, just three points adrift of Ospreys in second place. Connacht meanwhile, are currently in 10th place but a win could bring them up to 8th going into their final two games.
Despite qualification to the semi-finals of the European Cup, Ulster management and players have stressed their desire to continue to compete on two fronts, starting with Saturday’s trip to Galway.
Forwards: Callum Black, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Adam Macklin, John Afoa, Paddy McAllister, Andi Kyriacou, Nigel Brady, Rory Best, Lewis Stevenson, Johann Muller (captain), Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Neil McComb, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg, Ali Birch, Mike McComish, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack
Backs: Paul Marshall, Ruan Pienaar, Ian Porter, Ian Humphreys, Paddy Jackson, Paddy Wallace, Ian Whitten, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Nevin Spence, Michael Allen, Stefan Terblanche, Craig Gilroy, Conor Gaston, Andrew Trimble, Adam D’Arcy
Unavailable: Jared Payne (Achilles), Chris Cochrane (foot), Tim Barker (back), Simon Danielli (hamstring).
My goodness, what a situation to be in! Quarter final weekend over and we’re still battling on two fronts! Have we got the strength in depth to cope with this? Do we need to write off the PRO12?
Probably in the minority here , but I think we have the strength in depth to fight on two fronts and I don’t think we need to dilute our front line team too much. I don’t think Ulster are in the position where they can switch the intensity on and off at will so I think as many as possible of the first choice XV need to be kept “match hardened” so to speak.
Barring any niggling injuries, the only changes I’d make to Sunday’s starting (and finishing) XV would be to rest Best, Ferris and Afoa (who’ll more than likely miss a couple of games anyway) and replace them with Kyriacou, Diack and Macklin respectively. There may also be a case to give Wannenburg a rest, which would bring Faloon into the frame with Henry going to 6 and Diack to 8.
I would however mix the bench up a bit more with a view to the future and this weekend I fully expect it to be used.
So I’d be looking at something like this, with replacements coming on from half time: -
FRUXXIII: Terblanche, Trimble, Cave, Wallace, Gilroy, Humphreys, Pienaar, Court, Kyriacou, Macklin, Muller, Tuohy, Henry, Faloon Diack. Bench: Fitzpatrick, Brady, McAllister, Stevenson, Henderson, Marshall P, Jackson, D’Arcy.
However I expect to see something completely different come Friday when the match squad is announced.