Nick Williams and Ruan Pienaar have been included in Ulster’s starting line up for Friday’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 match against Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium (kick off 8.00pm).
Stephen Ferris has failed to recover from a back injury so impressive youngster Iain Henderson retains his place at blindside flanker, as Mark Anscombe made just two changes to the starting XV.
Williams has recovered from a rib injury picked up in the RaboDirect PRO12 win over Connacht a fortnight ago and will start the game at number 8 in place of Mike McComish who is named on the bench.
Pienaar showed his class in scoring the vital bonus point winning try as a replacement last week against Castres and will start at scrumhalf. Paul Marshall, who had ably deputised for the Springbok during the Rugby Championship, scored two tries in a man of the match display against the French side, highlighting Ulster’s strength in depth.
Indeed, Mark Anscombe admits it was a tough decision on the number 9 jersey: “Paul played outstanding last week and he showed what he is capable of with a man of the match performance. But we’re in the position where we have two fantastic options at scrumhalf. Ruan came on and showed what a quality player he is with his distribution and try and the end. We have to select the team to win specific games and that’s what we’ve done for this weekend. Rugby is an 80 minute game and it’s important to have someone like Paul, who can come on and make an impact.”
The Ulster coach is also pleased to have back row Nick Williams available. “Nick has trained all week and has proved that he is 100% fit. He’s looked sharp and it’s good to have him back in the team.”
Anscombe’s reign as Ulster coach has been characterised by squad rotation but there has been a more settled look about the team in recent weeks. He commented, “We’re getting more and more players back from injury and it is allowing us to get close to a full strength team. We now just have a couple of players missing so it’s looking quite promising.”
Glasgow have beaten the Ulstermen in just one in their last five encounters, but the New Zealander is not taking anything for granted. “Glasgow are a formidable team, particularly at home. We have to play for the full 80 minutes against them if we are to come away with the win. We can’t afford to put in a performance for 50 or 60 minutes like we have done in previous weeks,” concluded Anscombe.
This is the first Heineken Cup tie to be played at Scotstoun since Ulster visited the ground to play Glasgow & District in October 1997.
Ulster: Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy, Ian Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.
Glasgow Warriors : (tbc) Stuart Hogg, Byron McGuigan/Tommy Seymour, Peter Murchie, Peter Horne, Alex Dunbar, Ruaridh Jackson, Henry Pyrgos, Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall, Mike Cusack, Tom Ryder, Al Kellock (capt), Josh Strauss, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson. Replacements : Finlay Gillies, Ofa Fainga’anuku, Gordon Reid, Tim Swinson, Rob Harley, John Barclay, Scott Wight, Niko Matawalu.
With Ferris likely to be out for a few weeks yet and with Wilson only getting forty minutes for the Ravens the team pretty much picks itself. It’s still an impressively strong pack and when those tw oare ready to return it will be a formidable unit in deed.
The only real talking point is Pienaar starting ahead of Paul Marshall and small Paul can feel slightly miffed at being benched for this one. However, the reasoning for selecting Pienaar is faultless in my book as Ulster will want to keep the ball away from the Glasgow pack and there is no better proponent of getting the ball away quickly than the South African. I don’t think Pienaar has lost against the Scots and scored all the points for Ulster in both the games he has played against them.
If Ulster can generate a fast tempo to the game and stay on the front foot I can see nothing other than a comfortable win for the Ulster men but I cant see Pienaar scoring all the points this time round. I have a sneaky feeling that Paul Marshall will have something to say in the latter stages of this game and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the pocket rocket sneaking on to score the bonus point try.