Injury-hit Ulster resigned to road trip for semi-final
Published 16/05/2015 | 02:30
What a difference a week makes. This time seven days ago, Ulster were eyeing up the home win against Munster that would have rendered this tie in Glasgow an effective shoot-out for a home semi-final.
As it is, Ulster's chances of securing an all-Belfast route to their first trophy success in a decade seem to rest elsewhere, even if they win in Scotland.
Certainly, it is difficult to see them reside upon the shoulders of a heavily-altered line-up that shows 12 changes from the one that thrillingly drew 23-23 against Munster.
Even though Iain Henderson correctly had his red card rescinded during the week, further injuries have severely hampered their cause.
It seems they have resigned themselves to going on the road next weekend, given their skeletal selection.
The carnage is widespread, beginning in the front-row, where Callum Black (hamstring) and Wiehann Herbst (toe) head the half-dozen players who Ulster say picked up injuries last weekend, and extending to key back-line players Jared Payne (ankle) and Craig Gilroy (hamstring).
Darren Cave (shoulder) and Dan Tuohy (hip) complete the cast of walking wounded and the side has a less than sturdy look to it, highlighted by the selection of exciting Ireland U-20s centre Sam Arnold, who will make his debut in less than auspicious circumstances.
The only mild surprise is that Willie John McBride wasn't persuaded to cast aside his pipe and slippers for one last hurrah.
Coach Neil Doak has at least named a strong bench featuring Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson, Roger Wilson and Iain Henderson.
For Glasgow, captained by the returning second-row Al Kellock, Sean Lamont is back from injury and replaces Niko Matawalu on the left wing, with the Fijian international moving to scrum-half in place of Henry Pyrgos.
The only other change to the backline sees Finn Russell come in for Duncan Weir at out-half. In the pack, Dougie Hall replaces Pat MacArthur at hooker and Rossouw de Klerk returns from injury to take the place of Jon Welsh at tighthead.
Josh Strauss moves to blindside flanker replacing Rob Harley, with Adam Ashe returning from injury at No 8.
Glasgow have not been out of the top two all year and, although Munster remain title favourites, Gregor Townsend's side remain the neutral's fancy to take the title after being in regular play-off contention in recent seasons.
"They are a very good side," says Ulster full-back Louis Ludik. "If you look at the team sheet you don't see a lot of weakness in their side but they are also human.
"Any team is beatable, it doesn't matter if they are the All Blacks you can have an off day."
Warriors are the only side with a 100pc home winning record in the tournament this season, although they are coming off a loss to fellow semi-finalists Ospreys in Swansea last week.
Ulster are going for a clean sweep of victories over Scottish opponents this season - they recorded a 29-9 at Kingspan Stadium against the Glaswegians earlier this season.
Hooker Rob Herring knows that his team probably have to rely on results elsewhere; the crippling loss to Zebre could come back to haunt Ulster.
"We just need a win and hopefully Connacht can do us a favour," he says. "But if we lose this game we have no chance. If we lose we are not going to take good momentum into the semis so it is vital for us to have a good performance and put ourselves in the best position regardless."
Glasgow Warriors - S Hogg; T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, S Lamont; F Russell, N Matawalu; R Grant, D Hall, R de Klerk, J Gray, Al Kellock (c), J Strauss, C Fusaro, A Ashe. Reps: P MacArthur, G Reid, M Cusack, L Nakarawa, R Wilson, H Pyrgos, D Weir, P Murchie.
Ulster - L Ludik; R Scholes, S Arnold, S McCloskey, M Allen; I Humphreys, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring, R Lutton, L Stevenson, F van der Merwe, C Ross, C Henry (c), R Diack. Reps: R Best, K McCall, B Ross, I Henderson, R Wilson, R Pienaar, P Jackson, T Bowe.
Ref - Ian Davies (WRU).
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