McLaughlin hoping foreign aid will sink makeshift Munster
AT the end of a week when promoting players qualified to play for Ireland has dominated all discussions, Ulster will field their full foreign hand for their Pro12 clash against Munster at Ravenhill tonight (7.05).
Brian McLaughlin's selection features four Springboks and an All Black and, while the presence of Johann Muller, Pedrie Wannenburg, Ruan Pienaar, Stefan Terblanche and New Zealand's World Cup-winning prop John Afoa provides them with a pronounced edge in terms of experience, it is also an excellent example of the complexities of the player succession problem in Irish rugby.
Last Monday, McLaughlin essentially conceded defeat by selecting his Ravens side to face Leinster but the spirited performance of Ulster's indigenous tyros was extremely heartening as they put it up to the European champions (who had 10 internationals in their line-up) before fading towards the end.
On that basis, it would have been encouraging to see Chris Cochrane, their impressive try-scorer from the RDS, on the wing instead of the retirement-dodging veteran Terblanche, while Paul Marshall's superb form is not enough to prevent Pienaar returning at scrum-half.
McLaughlin makes no apologies for going with his overseas heavyweights, given the four-day turnaround and the fact that four of his frontline players -- Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Tom Court -- will be watching from Carton House in Maynooth, where they are in camp with the Ireland squad.
"We were not very happy with the fact that we had a four-day turnaround but we just have to manage as best we can," said McLaughlin.
The end justifies the means for Ulster but, while it is hard to resist an eye-roll at the presence of Terblanche for his first start, there are still positive aspects to this team-sheet from an Irish perspective.
Ian Whitten, Darren Cave and Craig Gilroy are in the three-quarter line, with the promising Paddy McAllister (pictured below) at loose-head prop. There is also a properly balanced back-row, with a specialist open-side in Willie Faloon and Chris Henry restored to his natural No 8 position.
Munster, who will have six players looking in from Carton -- Paul O'Connell, Ronan O'Gara, Donncha O'Callaghan, Donnacha Ryan, Conor Murray and Keith Earls -- have picked a team containing only two non-Irish qualified players in centre Lifeimi Mafi and prop Wian du Preez.
Tony McGahan, who also had the same four-day turnaround to negotiate, has rung the changes to the team that accounted for Connacht in Thomond Park.
Ian Nagle starts his first game of the season next to captain Mick O'Driscoll in the second-row, while Dave O'Callaghan, an athletic ball-winning flanker, is on the blind-side for the in-form Denis Leamy, who picked up a hip injury against Ulster.
Stephen Archer begins the John Hayes replacement process at tight-head prop, while Duncan Williams gets a chance to display his talents at scrum-half.
Williams, like Nagle, is short of game time given the depth of quality in his position and will relish the chance to take on Pienaar, while Luke O'Dea can build on a positive start to his Munster career when he goes up against Terblanche, who has 15 years on the 21-year-old.
Ulster should get the win they have earmarked but, even if their overseas players prove the difference, the more relevant story for both sides -- and Ireland down the line -- is seeing how the up-and-coming Irish brigade fare.
ULSTER -- A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, I Whitten, S Terblanche; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; P McAllister, A Kyriacou, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; P Wannenburg, W Faloon, C Henry. Reps: N Brady, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson, A Birch, P Marshall, C Farrell, P Nelson.
MUNSTER -- D Hurley; L O'Dea, T Gleeson, L Mafi, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; W du Preez, D Varley, S Archer; I Nagle, M O'Driscoll (capt); Dave O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan. Reps: D Fogarty, M Horan, J Ryan, B Holland, P Butler, T O'Leary, S Deasy, W Chambers.
REF -- A Rolland
Ulster v Munster,
Live, RTE 2, 7.05