Mark Anscombe has made seven changes to the starting team for the visit of Munster to Ravenhill tomorrow night (kick off 7.05pm).
Stephen Ferris has been named at blindside flanker and will earn his 100th cap for the Province. Elsewhere in the pack, Tom Court, John Afoa and Nigel Brady will start in an all new front row, replacing Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick and Rob Herring respectively.
In the backs, Andrew Trimble has been promoted to a starting berth on the right wing, replacing Craig Gilroy. Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson, who were also on the bench last week, will combine at half back in place of Michael Heaney and Niall O’Connor.
Ireland internationals Chris Henry and Dan Tuohy have not been included in the match day squad despite being named in the extended squad on Tuesday. The two will instead get a run out for Ulster Ravens against Munster A earlier in the afternoon (Deramore Park, Belfast, kick off 3pm).
Anscombe said: “It’s important for us to get them some game time so the Ravens is a good start. Chris has only been training with the team for two weeks and has had very little contact. He hasn’t played a lot of rugby since the Heineken Cup Final. He went to New Zealand (on Ireland’s Summer Tour) but only got a few minutes. It’s a long season and the guys in their positions have been doing a good job so it’s a balance of getting them back up to speed and rewarding the players who have been doing the job for us.”
The New Zealander again stressed that players showing good form will be picked, and used Nigel Brady’s selection at hooker as an example. “Rob Herring has done well, he’s a young guy learning his trade at hooker and we’re happy with the way he’s progressing but Nigel came on last week and his experience came through. His scrummaging was outstanding and he contributed around the park and that’s what we want. It’s a matter of keeping everyone accountable for their performance and Nigel took his chance last week and has been rewarded.”
Anscombe was full of praise for the travelling Munster side: “It’s our first derby of the season and there’s a lot of history between the two teams so it should be a great occasion. They will be the best team we’ve played against so far this year and their history shows what they’re capable of doing. There’s no prouder union in the competition than Munster and there’s never going to be an easy game against them so we need to perform to our capabilities to come away with a win. I’m really hoping that we get a big home crowd out to support us and I really want us to get a victory.”
Ulster: Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen, Patrick Jackson, Paul Marshall, Tom Court, Nigel Brady, John Afoa, Johann Muller (c), Lewis Stevenson, Stephen Ferris, Sean Doyle, Nick Williams. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Michael Heaney, Peter Nelson, Craig Gilroy.
Munster: Denis Hurley, Doug Howlett (c), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Luke O’Dea, Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams, David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donncha O’Callaghan, Billy Holland, David O’Callaghan, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan. Replacements: Mike Sherry, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, David Foley, Tommy O’Donnell, Conor Murray, Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls.
Well, a few surprises there. Most noticeably, the absence of Tuohy and, particularly, Henry is a big call for a game that is likely to be a bit tasty round the fringes and their experience would have been welcome. I wonder if it was Anscombe’s call or Kidneys? I’m also a tad surprised at the call of Allen over Gilroy. Fair enough, Gilroy hasn’t been sparkling of late, but he is a big game player,generally the bigger the game the better he plays, and there aren’t many games bigger than Munster!
No O’Connor on the bench is disappointing, but considering the abuse the talented out half has been getting from the usual buffoons it may be prudent to let him rediscover his form in the Ravens.
I am pleased to see Peter Nelson get back into the match day squad and himself and Gilroy could add a lot of pace and unpredictability to the game in the second half but I must admit I’m not as confident about this one as I was when I thought Henry would be starting, but then again looking at the Munster side there is really not that much to be worried about.
It’ll be a bit closer than I thought but I still expect a comfortable Ulster win.