PRO12: Extended Squad for Edinburgh Match.
Ireland squad members Stephen Ferris, Craig Gilroy and Paul Marshall have been released for this Friday’s game against Edinburgh at Ravenhill (kick off 7.05pm).
Eleven other Ulster players will remain with the Ireland set up as they prepare for the Autumn Internationals against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina.
Ruan Pienaar will also be available for the RaboDirect PRO12 clash this weekend, before joining up with the Springboks squad next week.
Fellow South African Robbie Diack has recovered from a knee injury and could play his first game the opening weekend of the season. Uncapped prop Ricky Lutton, Neil McComb, Niall Annett, Rob Herring and Ali Birch are also added to the extended group of forwards.
The backs will have a youthful look on Friday night with 6 of the 12 backs named in the 27 man squad having five caps or less to their name. Michael Heaney, Stuart Olding, Peter Nelson, Mike Allen, Chris Cochrane and Ricky Andrew have all been included.
Ulster Rugby has already won 8 from 8 competitive fixtures this season and will look to extend that run against the Scots, before the competition takes a break for two weeks.
Forwards (15): Rob Herring, Nigel Brady, Niall Annett, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Adam Macklin, John Afoa, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Stephen Ferris, Robbie Diack, Ali Birch, Roger Wilson, Nick Williams.
Backs (12): Paul Marshall, Michael Heaney, Ruan Pienaar, Niall O’Connor, Stuart Olding, Paddy Wallace, Michael Allen, Peter Nelson, Craig Gilroy, Chris Cochrane, Jared Payne, Ricky Andrew.
Unavailable (14): Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Tom Court, Darren Cave, Chris Farrell, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Paddy McAllister, Johann Muller, Andrew Trimble, Dan Tuohy.
I suspect there will be a few more released before the weekend with Ferris going the other way, next week, after he gets some game time under his belt.
Front row and second row is looking a bit stretched but there is still a surplus of talent in the back row with two quality players for each position if we assume that Birch and McComish are covering 7.
If O’Connor doesn’t get the nod as starting out half this week he may pack up and head to another club as this is his only chance he’ll get to play along side Pienaar. It would be good for his confidence, and stand Ulster in good stead, if teh fragile out half put in a good display before the South African heads of for the Bokke camp but I suspect he’s not going to get the chance with Marshal and Pienaar the starting 9 – 10 and I suspect it’ll be Olding on the bench.
Nelson or Payne at full back is the only other call, but I suspect we may find Jared back in his favourite position with Nelson on the bench.
FRUXXIII: Payne, Gilroy, Allen, Wallace, Cochrane, Pienaar, Marshall, Black, Brady, Afoa, Stevenson, McComb, Ferris, Birch, Wilson. Replacements: Herring, Lutton, Macklin, McComish, Williams, Olding, Andrew, Nelson.