Glad to be back. Niall O’Connor starts for Ulster.

Ulster have announced a 29 man panel for Saturday’s friendly against Leicester Tigers with plenty of youngsters given a chance to stick their hand up for further inclusion throughout the regular season.

Haven’t seen the Tigers team yet but it’s expected to be a tough enough challenge for Ulster against a team who will be keen to record their first ever win at Ravenhill following two humiliating defeats at the Fortress in their previous visits.

From Ulster Rugby.

Niall O’Connor will run out in the number 10 jersey at Ravenhill for the first time since his short term spell in Galway last season and will be looking to take charge of a young and energetic backline.

Luke Marshall and Chris Farell form a new partnership in the centres which promises to add creative opportunities for speedsters Craig Gilroy and Michael Allen on the wings. Meanwhile Jared Payne looks forward to making an impact at fullback after a successful first match back from injury in Bayonne last week.

Nick Williams is named in the Ulster Line up for the first time since arriving from New Zealand and the barn-storming back rower will be looking to get some good game time under his belt before the PRO 12 kicks off in 2 weeks time.

Declan Fitzpatrick will pack down in the front row, along side Nigel Brady and Callum Black. It will be Declan’s first match for Ulster since making his debut for Ireland in June against New Zealand and he will be keen to put in a good performance and stay on the radar of the Irish selectors as we head towards the Autumn Internationals

Ulster (15-9): Jared Payne, Craig Gilroy, Chris Farrell, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen, Niall O’Connor, Michael Heaney, Callum Black, Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (c), Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Ali Birch, Nick Williams. Replacements: Ricky Lutton, Rob Herring, Niall Annett, John Afoa, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Sean Doyle, Blane McIlroy, Patrick Jackson, Chris Cochrane, Stuart Olding, Ricky Andrews, Peter Nelson.

There are interesting partnerships all over the park with quite a few new combinations being tried out in this friendly. Niall O’Connor will be hoping that the back row of Diack, Birch and Williams offer plenty of front foot ball  to help him release the exciting young talent outside of him. If these three don’t come to the party it could be a long afternoon for O’Connor and the rest of the Ulster side.

Things look reasonably solid elsewhere in the pack so it’s worth reiterating that the outcome of this game looks like swinging on the performances of Diack, Birch and Williams and with no one of any substance to come off the bench, for these three, it is going to be a big ask for this new combination, especially when you consider that Williams has only been in the country since Tuesday. Given that Leicester take considerable pride in their forward play and, friendly or not, they will be gunning for a result at Ravers I can only see this game going one way from the 60th minute on and that’s Leicester pulling away for a comfortable win.

It’s a pity, as there are lots of exciting youngsters in the back line and on the bench and I’d have loved to see them get a good run out with plenty of ball but unfortunately I can’t see it.  If Anscombe does pull a win out of this one I’ll be very impressed.

1 Comment

  1. I think you have to be very impressed,John, even though we didn’t win. That was not far off their strongest side and our kids played very well against them, with some great defence at times. They only scored when our lads tired and Johann had gone off (he was magnificent as usual). For us to come back and score a great try to level the match was pretty special. And, as Ian McGeechan said a few years ago when we were being beaten by Bath in a preseason match, “There’s no such thing as a friendly.”