Brian McLaughlin has made four personnel and three positional changes for Ulster’s important RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Cardiff on Friday (kick off 7.05pm).
Paddy Wallace, Tom Court and Chris Henry have been released from Ireland duty and they go straight into the starting XV along with Nigel Brady, who replaces Andi Kyriacou. Brady, Court and John Afoa form the front row, while Lewis Stevenson and Dan Tuohy continue their partnership at lock with captain Johann Muller still sidelined through injury.
Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack get another chance in the back row, where they are joined by stand-in skipper Chris Henry. Mike McComish makes way despite a robust performance in the win over Dragons last weekend.
The return of Wallace at inside centre results in a number of positional changes across the backline. Nevin Spence moves out one to wear the no13 jersey, with Ian Whitten moving to the wing and Stefan Terblanche starting at fullback.
Ulster have plenty of options from the bench, with Paul Marshall, Simon Danielli and Adam D’Arcy all capable of changing the course of the game. McLaughlin commented: “With Chris (Henry), Tom (Court) and Paddy (Wallace) coming back in it means certain people miss out. It shows the strength of the squad that we are building when players like Mike (McComish) and Adam (D’Arcy), who have proved themselves at this level, aren’t in the team. But that provides challenges for those players and for everyone else in the squad. The competition for places should motivate the players to continue improving.”
The Ulster coach is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task his side are facing when fifth place sixth at Cardiff Arms Park.
“This is a very important match for us given the position the two teams occupy in the league. There isn’t much between us so I suppose you could say it’s an 8-pointer. But we’re playing well at the minute and if we play like we have done over the past few weeks, we have a good chance of coming back with the result,” said McLaughlin.
Indeed, Ulster have produced some excellent performances in recent times and have now registered six bonus point wins in their previous eight games. McLaughlin says confidence is a key factor in the recent purple patch his side have enjoyed. “We’re a confident side now and we know we can beat anyone on our day. There is a good atmosphere amongst the squad and the management and we feel we’re moving forward. We will continue to push towards our goals and a win on Friday would be another step forward in terms of qualification for the PRO12 play offs,” he concluded.
Ulster Match Day Squad to face Cardiff, Friday 17th February 2012, Cardiff Arms Park (kick-off 7.05pm)
(15-9): S Terblanche; C Gilroy, N Spence, P Wallace, I Whitten; I Humphreys, R Pienaar;
(1-8): T Court, N Brady, J Afoa, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, C Henry (capt), W Faloon, R Diack;
Replacements (16-23): A Kyriacou, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, M McComish, P Marshall, S Danielli, A D’Arcy
Unavailable due to injury: Jared Payne (achilles), Declan Fitzpatrick (neck), Darren Cave (foot), Pedrie Wannenburg (foot), Johann Muller (calf), Ali Birch (knee)