Mark Anscombe has made eleven changes to the starting XV for Ulster’s trip to Thomond Park to face Munster on Saturday (kick off 5.30pm).
Only Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall in the backs, and Neil McComb and Robbie Diack in the forwards, are retained from the team which beat Leinster 27-19 last Friday night.
Despite resting a number of players and having a large contingent involved in an Ireland training camp in Dublin this weekend, Ulster are able to field an all Irish-qualified match day squad.
Adam D’Arcy will make his first start of the season at fullback and will be joined in the back three by speedy youngsters Chris Cochrane and Gilroy. Michael Allen will partner Luke Marshall in midfield, with Paul Marshall and Niall O’Connor forming a new half back combination.
Up front, Callum Black, Rob Herring and Adam Macklin make up an all new front row, while Lewis Stevenson has returned from an eight week injury lay off to partner McComb in the engine room. Roger Wilson will captain the team from number 8 and he will be ably assisted in the back row by Mike McComish and Diack.
There are opportunities on the bench for Hughes Insurance Academy players Ali Birch, Stuart Olding, Ricky Andrew and Alan O’Connor, who made his debut against his home Province last weekend. Hooker Niall Annett, prop Ricky Lutton and scrumhalf Michael Heaney provide further back up. Experienced prop Tom Court, who enjoyed a fine Man of the Match performance last weekend, is also included.
Ulster: Adam D’Arcy, Chris Cochrane, Michael Allen, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Niall O’Connor, Paul Marshall, Callum Black, Rob Herring, Adam Macklin, Louis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Robbie Diack, Mike McComish, Roger Wilson. Replacements: Niall Annett, Ricky Lutton, Tom Court, Alan O’Connor, Ali Birch, Michael Heaney, Stuart Olding, Ricky Andrew.
Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, B Holland; P O’Mahony, T O’Donnell, P Butler. Replacements: M Sherry, M Horan, S Archer, Dave O’Callaghan, J Coughlan, P Stringer, R O’Gara, F Jones.
Not exactly the teams I was expecting for this first versus third game, but it should be an interesting enough encounter. Of particular interest will be the front row and half back contests with Munster on paper having the stronger selections and Ulster having the players with a point to prove.
I like the look of the back row for Ulster but it will come down to which team wants it more and Ulster are depending on how much of the “feel good factor” from recent results has trickled down through the squad. A confident start from the youngsters and Munster could soon crumble but if the home side get off to an early lead it could be a long old afternoon in the turnip patch.
I have a little hunch about this one though and I’m going to go for an Ulster win by 4 points.