The preliminary Ulster squad has been named ahead of Saturday’s trip to Thomond Park to take Munster in the RaboDirect PRO12 (kick off 7.30pm).
Chris Henry has been responding well to treatment but has failed to recover from an ankle sprain which also ruled him out of the Heineken Cup semi-final win over Edinburgh last weekend. Andi Kyriacou is carrying a neck injury and is also unavailable.
Stephen Ferris and Rory Best will be rested for Saturday’s clash and so are not included in the 32 man panel. Young forward duo Iain Henderson and Niall Annett have been named, with the latter in as a cover for Kyriacou. Henderson played a pivotal role in Ireland U20’s Six Nations campaign, while Annett has been in fine form for his club side Belfast Harlequins this season.
Munster’s only victory in their last four matches in all competitions was 35-29 at home to Glasgow on 14th April. They have lost their last two games at Thomond Park – an unprecedented sequence in the professional era, with one of those defeats coming in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster.
The two sides also met in the PRO12 in December, with Ulster winning that by a 33-17 margin, registering a four try bonus point in the process. Ulster have slipped to back-to-back league defeats to Connacht and Leinster and will not want to make it a triple against all their Irish opponents.
Forwards: Callum Black, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Adam Macklin, Paddy McAllister, Niall Annett, Nigel Brady, Lewis Stevenson, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg, Ali Birch, Mike McComish, Robbie Diack
Backs: Blane McIlroy, Ruan Pienaar, Ian Porter, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Paddy Jackson, Paddy Wallace, Ian Whitten, Darren Cave, 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), Chris Henry (ankle), Andi Kyriacou (neck)
I’m sort of in two minds here in that you want to keep your match day squad match fit, but then again you don’t want key members getting injured. Ferris and Best being rested is the right call, given their international commitments over the season, but my preference would be to give the rest of the Heineken Cup squad some game time, with changes from the bench fairly early on.
I would include the likes of Annett, Henderson, Birch, Porter, Allen and Gaston on the bench to let them sample the Thomond atmosphere while the feel good factor of Ulster’s Heineken Cup QF win still lingers, and while I would give them plenty of game time I still think that it’s important that Ulster put in a strong showing initially. This game is not about winning or losing for Ulster, and I suspect we’ll probably lose, but it’s for keeping Munster thinking that Ulster can go down and do a job whenever they choose to.
Full team announcement is at 12:00 noon tomorrow so not long to wait.