Rory Best is in line to make his first appearance of the season after being named in Mark Anscombe’s preliminary squad for Friday’s home derby with Connacht (Ravenhill, 7.05pm).
The Ireland hooker has not played since the Test match against New Zealand on 23rd June.
Captain Johann Muller is included after overcoming the niggling injuries which ruled him out of the excellent win over Cardiff last Friday. Ireland internationals Stephen Ferris and Declan Fitzpatrick also return to the extended 25 man squad.
Almost 8,000 tickets have been sold for the game, but there is still good availability in all parts of the ground. Please call the Ravenhill Ticket Office on 02890493222 (option 2) or visit www.ulsterrugby.com to buy tickets.
FORWARDS (14): Rob Herring, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick, John Afoa, Tom Court, Callum Black, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Lewis Stevenson, Stephen Ferris, Mike McComish, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams. BACKS (11): Paul Marshall, Michael Heaney, Niall O’Connor, Paddy Jackson, Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne.
I’d hoped to bring some insight as to the feelings about this game down in Galway, but after a boisterous start to the week from the Galwegians, following their impressive win against Leinster, the wind seems to have gone out of their sales with the announcement of Eric Elwood’s departure at the end of the season. There’s a fair few down here speculating that the “lovable rogue” Eddie O’Sullivan is in line as a replacement by my own thoughts are that Ulster’s own Brian McLaughlin could be making an unexpected return to head coach status. Not many biting on that one but we should know more tonight.
Ulster are in the fortunate position where they can add two truly world class players, in Best and Ferris, into the team that gave Cardiff a bit of a spanking last Friday. I expect Ferris to start on the bench and I anticipate that both front row combinations of Black, Herring, Fitzpatrick and Court, Best, Afoa will get pretty even game time though I don’t know which combination will start.
Muller and Tuohy should start in the second row with the same back row as last week though, the way Anscombe has been assessing players already this season, I don’t know if Ferris is going to come on at 6 or 8 and I don’t think it’ll matter a lot either way so long as the hugely impressive Henry is still at 7. I worry more about Henry getting injured than any other back row at the minute, while others may grab the limelight with their explosive plays,it would be dangerous to underestimate the impact Henry has in the rucks – a truly miraculous reinvention of himself over the last 16 months.
I presume O’Connor is only in the squad as Jackson is carrying a knock and I don’t expect to see too many changes in the back line barring injury. Luke Marshall could force his way in ahead of Wallace and Gilroy could be pushing Trimble for a starting berth but I think both youngsters will have to bide their time on the bench for a while yet.
While too much is being read into last weeks demolition of a woeful Cardiff I would expect, under normal circumstances, for Ulster to give Connacht a sound spanking. However, this is going to be a much more emotional match than last weeks outing and , for another week at least, our thoughts will be on more than the rugby.