After a highly successful European break for Ulster three inter-provincial matches lie in wait over the festive and New Year period.
Dan McFarland has made three changes to the side with Ian Nagle replacing Iain Henderson, Rob Herring in for Rory Best and Robert Baloucoune in for Jacob Stockdale on the left wing.
Best starts on the bench as Ulster hope to right a few wrongs after the hammering at the hands of Munster in Thomond Park at the end of September.
Herring joins Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore in the front row while Treadwell, who has impressed in recent weeks, keeps his lock 5 jersey. Nagle replaces the injured Henderson while a back row of Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee remains unchanged.
Baloucoune is set to make his fourth appearance for Ulster in the absence of Stockdale and this represents the only change in the Ulster backline. John Cooney and Billy Burns remain as the half backs with Stuart McCloskey and Will Addison in the centres. Baloucoune is joined in the back three by Henry Speight and Louis Ludik.
Tomorrow’s match will be the last time we see Speight run out at Kingspan for Ulster before he heads back to Australia in preparation for the Brumbies’ Super Rugby campaign at the end of the month.
Munster don’t travel with any of their international players but there is a start for ex-Ulster player Sam Arnold at inside centre. He is partnered in the centre by Jaco Taute who was signed as injury cover in 2016 for the now departed Francis Saili. Both are talented players but with the form that Addison and McCloskey are in, I’d give Ulster the upper edge in the back line.
I suspect Johan van Graan will look to isolate Darren Sweetnam one on one with Baloucoune. While the Enniskillen man has looked assured positionally in his matches so far this season, facing Sweetnam and Munster is a different task from opposing Benetton or Dragons but I’ve every confidence that he’ll step up to the mark.
As always with Munster, they’ll make it a physical contest and if we remember back to this fixture last season, they outmuscled Ulster in the first half and would have won the match but for an Arnold red card. However Ulster have shown in recent weeks that they’re not afraid to roll the sleeves up and take teams on up front. I’m a lot less worried about this match compared to the reverse one earlier in the season.
Ulster are without two of their best lineout operators in Best and Henderson so I expect Munster to target this area through Darren O’Shea, Jean Kleyn and Fineen Wycherley.
The FRU predicts: Ulster by ten points. It’ll be tight for the majority of the game as I’m sure Munster would take a losing bonus point but I think there’s a spring in Ulster’s step and they will keep the good form up heading into the interpros.
|Louis Ludik||15||Mike Haley|
|Henry Speight||14||Darren Sweetnam|
|Will Addison||13||Sam Arnold|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||Jaco Taute|
|Robert Baloucoune||11||Alex Wootton|
|Billy Burns||10||JJ Hanrahan|
|John Cooney||9||Alby Mathewson|
|Eric O’Sullivan||1||Jeremy Loughman|
|Rob Herring||2||Kevin O’Byrne|
|Marty Moore||3||Stephen Archer|
|Ian Nagle||4||Jean Kleyn|
|Kieran Treadwell||5||Darren O’Shea|
|Sean Reidy||6||Fineen Wycherley|
|Jordi Murphy||7||Conor Oliver|
|Marcell Coetzee||8||Arno Botha|
|Rory Best||16||Mike Sherry|
|Kyle McCall||17||Dave Kilcoyne|
|Ross Kane||18||Ciaran Parker|
|Clive Ross||19||Gavin Coombes|
|Nick Timoney||20||Tommy O’Donnell|
|Dave Shanahan||21||Neil Cronin|
|Johnny McPhillips||22||Bill Johnston|
|James Hume||23||Shane Daly|