Twenty year old back row Iain Henderson will be the third of our four to follow to appear in the Heineken Cup when he makes his home debut for Ulster after replacing the injured Nick Williams for Friday’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 opener against Castres Olympique (kick off 8.00pm).
Williams has failed to recover from a rib injury picked up in the 25-0 win over Connacht on Friday night so Henderson will make his fourth appearance for the Province, his first in the Heineken Cup. It follows yesterday’s news that the Ireland U20 star has signed his first full contract, keeping him at the club until June 2015.
Henderson’s inclusion at blindside flanker will mean Stephen Ferris switches to the back of the scrum. The rest of the team is unchanged from Friday’s clinical victory over Connacht.
The only change on the replacements bench will see Ruan Pienaar, who returned from Rugby Championship duty with South Africa earlier in the week, named in place of Michael Heaney.
After missing most of last season with an Achilles tendon injury, fullback Jared Payne will also make his European bow.
Looking ahead to the game, Henderson said: “I can’t wait. I’ve been watching games at Ravenhill since I was a kid and I’m really looking forward to pulling on the white jersey and experiencing the atmosphere as a player.
“My first aim for the season was to be involved in a few PRO12 games but with the few injuries that we have in the back row, I’ve been given an opportunity and I have to try and grab it with both hands.
“Castres are a very physical team but they also throw the ball wide and have an expansive kicking game. That should make for a tough, but entertaining game. We’ll have to work really hard to nullify their threats.”
Castres currently occupy sixth position in the Top 14 having beaten Clermont Auvergne at the weekend, and with Ulster undefeated in the RaboDirect PRO12, it promises to be a tantalising clash. Former Ravenhill crowd favourite Pedrie Wannenburg likely to line up for the French side.
Ulster: Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Patrick Jackson, Paul Marshall, Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Stephen Ferris. Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Ruan Pienaar, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.
Castres: Romain Teulet, Marcel Garvey, Seremaia Bai, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Marc Andreu, Pierre Bernard, Thierry Lacrampe, Yannick Forrestier, Mathieu Bonello, Michael Coetzee, Matthias Rolland, Rodrigo Capo Ortega, Piula Faasalele, Yannick Caballero, Pedrie Wannenburg. Replacemnets: Marc Antoine-Raller, Gregory Marmoiton, Mihaita Lazar, Iosefa Tekori, Antonie Claassen, Rory Kockott, Paul Bonnefond, Thomas Sanchou.
I am surprised and delighted that young Henderson has broken through into the top rank in his first season. A player with a huge engine and a bit of pace he was easy to pick out as one for the top even before his Ireland U20 appearances and I’m pleased to see he’s starting at 6 rather than the more pressured position of 8.
How Ferris will cope with the extra responsibility at the back of the scrum will be interesting but it’s a huge pack and the big man should get plenty of opportunity to practice his technique and, while he may not have Williams’ off load game, he will bring plenty of grunt and pace to secure Ulster go forward ball. Ferris has matured a lot over the last 10 months and I’m sure the big man will be only too keen to show his versatility in the back row during this Lions season.
I’m even more surprised that Pienaar is not starting. It’a a big call by Anscombe and consequently a big game for Paul Marshall. Pienaar is confident and in top form after his games with South Africa and to date Ulster have been a bit flat in the back line considering the amount of ball the forwards have given them to play with. Pienaar is just the player to give the back line that little bit extra space and time with his smooth and accurate passing but Paul Marshall has his own talents and his continual sniping is bound to keep the French back row honest. It’ll be quite a feisty little battle round the edges of the scrums and rucks if Marshall is up against the equally abrasive Kockott. Who will back down first?
Looking at the teams it’s great to see that it’s Ulster with the class all over the pitch and they certainly have a strong, strong bench to call on should things not be going to plan. I only really see one winner in this game and if Jackson can get the back line to tick it could be by a considerable margin. I had a quick look at the French as they went through thei paces on a rain sodden Ravenhill earlier today and they did not look happy. I know it’s to be dry tomorrow but it’ll still be slippery and with a big crowd and with the forwards sticking it to the visitors early doors I just can’t see Castres putting up too much opposition.
A comfortable win for Ulster.