Henry has been ruled out of tomorrow’s clash after failing to recover from an ankle sprain picked up in the PRO12 match against Leinster last weekend. Other injury concerns Paddy Wallace, Pedrie Wannenburg and Paul Marshall have all been passed fit, with the latter named among the replacements.
Forward trio Stephen Ferris, Dan Tuohy and Rory Best have all returned to the starting XV after being rested last weekend. Ferris is a direct replacement for Henry, so Willie Faloon retains his position at openside flanker. Nigel Brady drops to the bench for the return of Best, while Lewis Stevenson makes way for Tuohy. After impressing last week in his first game in five months, Declan Fitzpatrick will start again at tighthead prop.
Brian McLaughlin has named an unchanged backline for Saturday’s crucial game, meaning Paddy Jackson gets the nod over Ian Humphreys at outhalf. The Ireland U20 captain produced an accomplished display at inside centre against Connacht two weeks ago, before controlling affairs in the number 10 jersey in the home defeat to Leinster.
This is Ulster’s biggest game since they defeated Colomiers 21-6 in the 1999 European Cup final. McLaughlin admits some of his players are disappointed at missing out on selection for such an important game. “Nobody wants to miss an occasion like this. These kind of games don’t come around too often; it’s been 13 years since we’ve had a game this big. It really wasn’t easy selecting the squad this week,” he said.
Commenting on the loss of Chris Henry, McLaughlin stated: “It’s a huge blow for us. He has probably been our most consistent player this season, probably over the past few seasons. I suppose we are fortunate in a way to have a player like Willie (Faloon) to come in. He is vastly experienced and will put everything into his performance on Saturday.”
A big performance will be needed at the Aviva as Edinburgh will arrive full of confidence after an excellent Heineken Cup run. McLaughlin said: “Edinburgh are one of the form teams in Europe. They beat Toulouse, one of the kingpins of the competition, and you have to respect them for that. They have a great spine; their pack is full of internationals and they have an excellent back row. They have international half backs who are very good at controlling the game so it will be a big challenge for us. They are not going to fear coming to the Aviva.”
McLaughlin is confident that Paddy Jackson will rise to the occasion as well: “Paddy has come in over the last few weeks and done exceptionally well. His performances have warranted selection. It’s a very tough call on Ian (Humphreys) who has been exceptional for us over the past couple of seasons, but we felt Paddy deserved a shot.”
The youngest member of the Ulster squad, Jackson had just turned 7 years of age when Ulster last played in a Heineken Cup semi-final against Stade Francais on 9th January 1999.
Jackson said, “I was living in England at the time, we’d moved over there because of my dad’s work, and I was more interested in football. I’m probably the one person in Ulster that doesn’t really remember what they were doing in 1999!”
He’s relaxed and confident ahead of this weekend’s game: “I’m delighted to be starting – I may be the youngest player in the squad but I have a job to do at 10 and I’m very comfortable making the calls. I’m playing right alongside Ruan Pienaar, with Paddy and Darren outside me and Stefan behind so there’s lots of experience around me.
“I find that it’s best if I just try to relax before a game, I don’t have a particular routine or hype myself up too much. I’ve talked to Neil Doak a fair bit this week and we’ve discussed how Saturday’s match is just another game. Obviously there will be a massive crowd and a lot of media attention but it is just a game of rugby and I’ll prepare for it in exactly the same way as I always do.
“Doakie and Ian (Humphreys) have been a huge help to me as I’ve begun my professional career, providing tips and advice. When Brian announced that I was starting, Ian was the first person to congratulate me and told me to ask him anything I wanted. Obviously he knows the calls and plays just as well as I do so it’s great to be able to have that sort of support.”
Ulster: Stefan Terblanche, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy, Patrick Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Tom Court, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johan Muller (capt), D anTuohy, StephenFerris, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg. Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Adam D’Arcy
Unavailable: Jared Payne (achilles), Simon Danielli (hamstring), Tim Barker (back), Chris Henry (ankle).
Edinburgh: Tom Brown, Lee Jones, Nick De Luca, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Greig Laidlaw (captain), Mike Blair, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross,Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox,David Denton, Ross Rennie, Netani Talei. Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Jack Gilding, Stuart McInally, Roddy Grant, Chris Leck, Phil Godman, Jim Thompson.
So the big news is that Patrick Jackson is to start. We heard a few days ago and it’s been difficult keeping it under wraps but it’s a big Front Row Union congratulations to Patrick Jackson on his selection.
We first spotted Patrick’s potential three years ago and tipped him as one for the top, alongside Craig Gilroy, Iain Henderson and Dave McGuigan, and we’re delighted that “Paddy” has joined Craig in the starting XV, for a Heineken Cup Semi Final, a few short years after we tipped them for stardom. Barring injuries, we’re sure that Henderson and McGuigan, won’t be far behind.
Patrick first started playing rugby aged six when his family lived in England when his dad, Peter, worked over there for a spell, as he told the FRU a few years ago:
I started playing when I lived in England at the age of six. At that time I was more into playing football until I joined Veseyans rugby club in Birmingham. Rugby is huge in my family so my brother and I were playing at an early age.
No doubt the Dungannon youngster will have a few more memorable games to add to a long list but we must remember that only a couple of years ago he was a beaten semi finalist in the Schools Cup with Methody, who lost to Ballyclare. Since then he has went on to captain Ireland U20′s and, of course get his first few starts for Ulster. However, we have to remember that he’s on the first steps, of what should be, a memorable career and his memories are still of those first and last games at school.
I’ll always remember my first ever game of fifteen aside rugby against Coleraine Inst. I loved the sense of playing a proper rugby match, especially being able to kick at goal for the first time. Also my last game against Ballymena at Ravenhill. Although we lost I will always remember that game.
We ran a piece on our Four to Follow just before they all appeared at that memorable Aviva opener saying at the time:
I hadn’t seen much of young Methody out half Jackson but I’d certainly heard plenty about him. Our paths did cross however at the Ballymena v Methodist College Schools Cup semi-final at Ravenhill and the Ulster U20 outing against Ballymena Barbarians. Calmness personified with a great step out half Jackson scored on both occasions with slick dummies opening up the defences.
A classic out half, silky smooth with a keen eye for the break and a good boot, Jackson has the added benefit of being able to tackle and he should really come into his own in the second half as teams begin to tire.
Not much has changed there and we expect “Paddy” to have a big say in the game on Saturday.
The only, unexpected, downside of the starting XV is the absence of Chris Henry who hasn’t recovered sufficiently from his ankle injury picked up against Leinste. However a fully focused Willie Faloon should prove an able enough replacement and we now have the unexpected bonus of a rejuvinated Robbie Diack on the bench should he be required.
No surprises elsewhere with Fitzpatrick taking the place of Afoa and we have strong enough cover in the front row with Macklin and McAllister more than able replacements.
A few quiet ones before the game became oh too many and by the time, six hours later, that we had to make our way to the Aviva things were getting a little fuzzy to say the least.
In truth it wasn’t a classic match, but it was a fantastic atmosphere. Despite Edinburgh’s dominance for most of the first half Ulster never really looked under undue pressure and much credit must go to “Dinger” Bell who really has set out a formidable defensive unit.
The game was over, in my mind, in the first half when we didn’t concede a point when Terblanche was in the bin, in fact we actually slotted a pen to take that period 3 – 0 and Edinburgh looked shattered and Ulster looked as relaxed as if they had just ran a few defensive plays.
I would guess everyone has seen it but we should record some match detail for posterity so here goes:
Edinburgh enjoyed an early advantage going into a 3 – 6 lead after 10 minutes with Laidlaw slotting over two penalties to Pienaar’s one in a nervy opening from both sides.
Ulster soon got their act together and stormed up the field for Wannenburg to go over from the back of a scrum on the 16th minute. Pienaar converted and Ulster led 10 – 6.
Disappointingly, Ulster seemed content to let Edinburgh come on to them but the aggressive defense coped reasonably comfortably, despite losing Terblanche to the bin on the 29th minute, and when Pienaar slotted over a penalty at the end of the sin bin period to give Ulster a 13 – 6 lead the Edinburgh team looked shattered.
However the Scottish side hit back with two Laidlaw penalties either side of the break to take the score to 13 – 12, six minutes into the second half.
With Ulster dominating the scrums and the linouts it appeared as though they could produce a penalty chance almost at will and three Pienaar penalties put the game beyond Edinburgh with Ulster leading 22- 12 as the game approached the 80 minute mark.
A consolation try from Edinburgh’s Thompson, converted by Laidlaw, with the last play of the game, didn’t exactly go unnoticed but went largely unheeded as the huge Ulster following were already celebrating their progress to the final.
Though a poor match in the scheme of things Ulster can take some confidence from the fact that they won, and won reasonably comfortably, without having to extend themselves. No big storming performances were needed, just a cool, calm and collected Pienaar directing operations and taking the points when required.
They are going to need to up it a level or two when they face Leinster in the Final on 19th May, but with what amounts to three weeks rest and recuperation, while Leinster go through the PRO12 play offs, the team have as good a chance as any of sneaking up on the inside rail and taking this one.
Early days, but I have to say I’m quietly confident.
Ulster back-row forward Pedrie Wannenburg scored Ulster’s only try in their 22-19 semi-final victory over Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium;
“It was a case of play it as you see it. The scrum went forward really fast and Ruan (Pienaar) was shouting ‘pick up, pick up and go’ and I just went for the line. It was just fortunate for me”. he says modestly when asked to recount the seconds leading up to the score
The popular back-row forward who will depart Ulster at the end of the season has featured in no less than 10 club finals throughout his career, though Currie Cup and Super Rugby competition, but says that reaching the final of the Heineken Cup, the northern hemisphere’s premier rugby tournament is a step closer to a dream come true;
“One of my dreams is to win a Heineken Cup. I was fortunate enough to win a couple of Currie Cups and a couple of Super 14 titles and this is right up there in terms of my whole career.
A semi-final is always the most difficult game you will play in. In the final, any team can win and we have a 50/50 chance of winning, but we know that we will need to play better than we did on Saturday.
It’s just an amazing feeling for us, some of the boys have waited 13 years for this and we’re the lucky ones, going to Twickenham for the final.”
Wannenburg, who was watched on Saturday afternoon by his wife Evette and 3 month old baby daughter Isabelle, credits a growing belief with the Ulster squad for their Heineken Cup success this season;
“A lot has happened since I arrived at Ulster, the players have started to believe in themselves and we know we can achieve something. We’re up there and we’re in a good place at the moment.”
Twenty year old out-half Paddy Jackson made his first Heineken Cup start on Saturday in front of a crowd of more than 47,000 at the Aviva Stadium;
“I was quite relaxed in the run-up to the game at the hotel. I actually watched Ballymena in the All-Ireland Cup on RTE beforehand so I was just relaxing in my room”
Jackson, cool and calm all last week in the run-up to the game does admit to beginning to feel the nerves on approach to the stadium;
“Things really started to kick in when we walked out of the hotel to the bus. Everyone was outside and the streets were lined with Ulster fans. I sat beside Craig Gilroy on the coach on the way to the stadium and we were both just fascinated by the amount of Ulster supporters on the streets. I couldn’t stop smiling but at the same time, I was beginning to feel a bit nervous. It’s definitely the most nervous I’ve been for a game but semi-finals are like that aren’t they? A bit nervy? Mainly everyone just wants to get it through it.”
One of his stand-out memories from the day was walking out of the tunnel;
“Walking out the tunnel, I can picture the scene perfectly, the wall of Ulster supporters in front of us but most of all I remember the thousands of Ulster flags people were waving
As we walked out onto the pitch ahead of kick-off, Rory Best pulled me over and put me in front of him – I was going to let him, as a senior player go first, but he stepped in behind me and put his hand on my shoulder and stayed close to me. Looking back on it now I realise what he was up to, he just want to give me that extra bit of reassurance because he knew what we were about to face both in terms of atmopshere and opposition.”
“The game went so quickly at the start, Edinburgh just kep coming at us and we were never so far ahead that we could ever relax. We defended for around 30 minutes of the first half, it was the hardest game I’ve ever played in, the amount of tackles we had to put in. But Ruan made my life so much easier on the day, he kept the scoreboard ticking over and just really took the pressure off me.
“It was so noisy that it was difficult to hear the voices of experience around me but just knowing they were there was a help – I thought Darren Cave, and his defence in particular, was outstanding.”
“After the game I saw a few famililar faces in the crowd. Doing lap of honour at the Aviva Stadium was very surreal, almost unbelieveable – without a doubt the highlight of my career so far.”
REACTION: MARK McCALL
Former Ulster Coach Mark McCall has said that he feels Ulster have a 50/50 chance of overcoming Leinster in the Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham on 19th May.
McCall left Ulster in 2007 and took up a coaching position for French Top 14 side Castres before joining Saracens in 2009. Saracens host Exeter Chiefs this weekend in the final round of Premiership action before the play-offs and while they have already secured a spot in the top four, a home draw is at stake.
“I think it’s a remarkable achievement to have turned around the situation that Ulster were in three years ago to a European Cup Final and to assembled the squad that they have. I think a lot of people deserve to get a lot of credit for that and it’s a brilliant achievement.”
“I think David Humphreys deserves a great amount of credit for the recruitment job he’s done; not only has be managed to bring world class players to Belfast to supplement the local talent but they’re also very influential and good people who have helped to create a very good culture at the province.”
“For me the final is a 50/50 game. When Ulster have their best team on the pitch and when they bring their best game, which they are more than capable of doing, then they have every chance.”
“Leinster are a great side and they’ve had a phenomenal season. Their win/loss record is incredible but Ulster’s set-piece is a real strength at the moment. I thought Declan Fitzpatrick did brilliantly on the weekend and assuming that John Afoa comes back in they really do have a scrum to be reckoned with which is very important at that level of rugby.”
“Ulster’s lineout is a real trump card and they could put Leinster under some pressure there in the final – they’ve just got players that are on form and for me it’s a 50/50 game.”
McCall who captained the Ulster team in the 1998/99 season missed the final against Colomiers due to injury and while he still looks back fondly on the campaign, he feels that Ulster have really entered a new chapter;
“1999 was a long time ago now. It was important and will always be special for those of us who were involved in it, but for me, the quarter-final game against Munster was a real defining moment for Ulster in terms of their record in the Heineken Cup competition. Defeating Munster down there in such an important game is almost like a changing of the guard in some respects.”
So given his links to the province, will McCall and his family be at Twickenham for the final? Absolutely
“We have three families coming to stay in our house on the weekend of the game so we’re fully booked and have all got our tickets. I will definitely be wearing something red and white on that day!”