Mark Anscombe has handed competitive debuts to Sean Doyle, Nick Williams, Rob Herring and Michael Heaney for Friday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 encounter against Glasgow at Ravenhill (kick off 7.05pm)…
Doyle and Williams will be joined in the back row by Robbie Diack, while Johann Muller continues as skipper in the engine room alongside Lewis Stevenson. In the front row, Irish qualified South African hooker Herring is joined by props Callum Black and John Afoa. Should replacement forward Tom Court come off the bench at any stage during the game it will mark the prop’s 100th appearance for the Province.
Behind the scrum, Heaney will start at scrumhalf where he is partnered by former Methodist College schoolmate Paddy Jackson at halfback. Luke Marshall and Chris Farrell will form an all new centre partnership in what is a youthful and energetic backline.
Right wing Michael Allen will make only his second ever appearance for the Province, while Craig Gilroy – the most capped player in the backline with 43 caps – will play on the other flank. The back three is completed by fullback Jared Payne who will play his first RaboDirect PRO12 game since he ruptured his Achilles tendon against Cardiff just over 11 months ago.
If Ulster have a relatively inexperienced starting XV, the same cannot be said of the 8 replacements, who have over 500 caps between them. Included on the bench are Ireland squad members Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Paul Marshall and Darren Cave.
Nigel Brady, Neil McComb and Mike McComish are the other forward replacements. If Niall O’Connor comes off the bench it will be the flyhalf’s first appearance for Ulster in 20 months after returning from a spell with Connacht.
Mark Anscombe, taking charge of his first competitive game with Ulster, is expecting a tough challenge from the travelling Scots. “They have named a strong side as we expected and they will provide a formidable test. They have brought a few Internationals into the starting lineup and have another couple on the bench.
“We have a strong bench too but we will see how the game pans out. Our Internationals on the bench haven’t played much rugby or had much contact but if we need to use them we will. I’m really excited about this game, hopefully we can start the season off with a good win,” concluded Anscombe.
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Ulster: Jared Payne, Michael Allen, Chris Farrell, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Patrick Jackson, Michael Heaney, Callum Black, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Johann Muller (c), Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Sean Doyle, Nick Williams. Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Niall O’Connor, Darren Cave.
Glasgow: Peter Murchie, Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Graeme Morrison, Sean Lamont, Duncan Weir, Henry Pyrgos, Gordon Reid, Finlay Gillies, Mike Cusack, Tom Ryder, Al Kellock (c), Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson. Replacements. Dougie Hall, Moray Low, Ryan Grant, James Eddie, John Barclay, Chris Cusiter, Ruaridh Jackson, Peter Horne
No real surprises from Anscombe and it’s good to see that he has confidence in the youth rather than try and force the likes of the experienced Cave back into the team. The only real differences I would have looked for would have been Fitzpatrick to start in place of Afoa and I would have included young Nelson as a sub to give a 4 – 4 split on the bench with McComish dropping out of the squad. Two reasons for that one; we don’t have anyone I’d be comfortable with playing at full back should anything happen to Payne and secondly any chance to get the exciting youngster on the field can’t be a bad thing.
I’m expecting Glasgow to be one of the top four finishers in the PRO12 this season, more for their team work rather than any individual performance, but the do have a few strong starters and a very experienced bench. It will be a tough enough test for the Ulster youngsters tomorrow night, and if they do get the result it will be a big achievement.
Looking at it dispassionately though I’m expecting a Glasgow win. Let’s hope I’m wrong.