Tommy Bowe will make his hugely anticipated return to Ulster colours when he lines out on the right wing against Cardiff in Friday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash (7.05pm kick off).
The Cardiff Arms Park fixture will see Ulster return to action following the tragic circumstances of last week’s postponement of the clash with Zebre in Italy.
Head Coach Mark Anscombe has continued the rotation policy which has served his side so well since the start of his tenure. The New Zealander has made five personnel changes and a further three positional switches to the team which started in the 20-19 home win over Munster two weeks ago.
Bowe will start in his familiar position on the right wing, with Andrew Trimble switching to the left flank to accommodate him. As a result, Michael Allen has moved into outside centre and Darren Cave shifts in to fill the 12 jersey worn by Luke Marshall in the opening three matches of the season.
Scrumhalf Paul Marshall, outhalf Paddy Jackson and fullback Jared Payne have all retained their places from the Munster match.
Up front, regular captain Johann Muller has picked up a knock and is replaced in the second row by Neil McComb. Ireland lock Dan Tuohy will make his first appearance of the season after being named alongside McComb in the engine room.
Fellow international Chris Henry will also play for the first time this season and will captain the side from openside flanker in the absence of Muller. Stephen Ferris has been rested so rising star Iain Henderson joins Henry and Nick Williams in the back row.
An unchanged front row of Tom Court, Nigel Brady and John Afoa completes the line up.
Paddy Wallace has overcome a shoulder injury which required surgery and has returned to the match day squad to cover outhalf and centre. Michael Heaney and Craig Gilroy are the other backline replacements.
Rob Herring, Callum Black and Adam Macklin are the back up front row, with Lewis Stevenson and Mike McComish completing the bench.
The Ulstermen have won all three PRO12 encounters so far this season, whilst their only defeat in their last five clashes with Welsh regions came in this equivalent fixture last season.
Cardiff’s only defeat in the opening four rounds of this season’s RaboDirect PRO12 was 19-21 at home to Edinburgh in round two. The Blues have won just two of their last five home games, but have been victorious in their last two home fixtures with Irish provinces.
Ulster: Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe, Michael Allen, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble, Patrick Jackson, Paul Marshall, Tom Court, Nigel Brady, John Afoa, Neil McComb, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (c), Nick Williams. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson , Mike McComish, Michael Heaney, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy.
Unavailable: Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris, Paddy McAllister, Chris Farrell, Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar, Roger Wilson, Declan Fitzpatrick, Rory Best.
Cardiff: Dan Fish, Harry Robinson, Dafydd Hewitt, Jamie Roberts, Tom James, Jason Tovey, Lloyd Williams, Andries Pretorius (c), Sam Warburton, Robin Copeland, James Down, Bradley Davies, Taufa’ao Filise, Andi Kyriacou, Nathan Trevett. Replacements: Rhys Williams, Campese Ma’afu, Scott Andrews, Lou Reed, Rory Watts-Jones, Rob Lewis, Gareth Davies, Tom Williams.
This is one of those games that comes around once in a lifetime, a game that may provide the answer to the question that was on every Ulster-man’s lips for the last three years – who is the better hooker Brady or Kyriacou? It was a question that defeated the best coaching brains in the Province but we may get an answer tomorrow night as the two go head to head for the first time in living memory! Brady definitely has the best set of props so the, “One Greek in Cardiff” may be up against it at scrum time, but all joking aside it will be an interesting sub plot in what promises to be an intriguing game.
Looking at the game as a whole, it’s interesting to see that Anscombe has continued to assess the squad, with Michael Allen, Neil McComb and Iain Henderson being the players under evaluation this time round. Allen has performed well, if a little unspectacular, to date and gets an opportunity to show what he can do in the centre, McComb gets a rare start, after some promising performances from the bench, and his partnership with Tuohy appears to have the right balance between grunt and guile, wheras young Henderson, who is quickly becoming the hottest property in Irish Rugby, according to the hits on our site, has even more weight placed on his shoulders being already earmarked as a replacement for Ferris!
It’s an interesting game, but one I would expect Ulster to win. Outside of the classy Roberts and Warburton for Cardiff there is not much else shouting out at you, though they have nothced up three wins already in what can only be regarded as a revival following their dismal end to last season.
Certainly Cardiff will be no push overs but I do expect an Ulster win with the pack providing the ball and the back three of Payne, Bowe and Trimble providing the cutting edge. However, as Ulster begin their transition from the tragedy of a fortnight ago, our thoughts won’t only be on rugby this weekend.