Ferris fitness boost for Ulster
Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris and out-half Ian Humphreys will return to Magners League action this Friday when Ulster take on Treviso at Ravenhill, as the province attempt to get back on track following two disappointing derby defeats last week.
Ferris (right) had been sidelined for three weeks with a buttock injury while Humphreys has been absent due to an ankle problem. Both players have been included in an extended 32-man squad announced by Brian McLaughlin, who said that a final decision will be made today on their fitness.
Humphreys is certain to reclaim the No 10 jersey from Paddy Wallace, while Ferris will probably ease his way back from the bench.
It will be all change again for Ulster who took the field in the 35-10 reverse by Munster with 13 changes from the side that lost to Leinster six days earlier. "It was very disappointing for us to lose those games. We had prepared well but it just didn't happen for us," said coach McLaughlin, who insists that the exercise in using a fairly untried squad against Munster was justified.
"The players we used needed match time. Some very good things came out of the Munster game even though we lost."
McLaughlin says that Friday's game is of vital importance.
"It's a huge month for us and we must start with a win," he said. "Then it's Biarritz and Aironi in Europe before the postponed game against the Dragons. Win those games and our season will then really take off.
"The Magners League is tight at the top and a couple of wins will put us back in the running again for the top four. The players have trained hard and realise it is in their own hands."
McLaughlin is expected to start with Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half despite the contribution of Paul Marshall at Thomond Park, while Wallace will resume his partnership with Nevin Spence in midfield. Adam D'Arcy will reclaim his No 15 jersey from Jamie Smith.
With no Ireland commitments, Andrew Trimble, Tom Court and skipper Rory Best will all start, while Springbok BJ Botha will be back in the No 3 jersey, with Johann Muller returning at lock.