Ulster bolstered by the return of crucial Ireland stars
Ulster have named Tom Court and Paddy Wallace in the 27-man panel for their first Magners League match of 2010/11.
Brian McLaughlin’s men host Ospreys at Ravenhill on Friday and the availability of two more Irish internationals is a huge plus for the coach now embarking on his second season in charge.
“I’m delighted to welcome Tom and Paddy back from Irish duty and have no doubt that they will further bolster a squad that has already gelled impressively in our pre-season encounters.
“We’ve had three good warm-up games that have allowed us to trial a wide range of players.
“But it only starts counting from now and we’re looking forward to testing ourselves in the tournament opener against last season’s winners,” McLaughlin said.
Rory Best and Stephen Ferris, who played for the first 40 minutes of Friday night’s 19-16 victory over Leeds in what was Ulster’s final work-out, are included, too.
Nine unavailable players were not considered — Irish internationals Andrew Trimble, Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry, Scottish cap Simon Danielli, plus Jamie Smith, David Pollock and Bryn Cunningham and Springboks pair Ruan Piennar and BJ Botha.
Three South Africans who are available, however, are Robbie Diack and newcomers Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg.
Friday night will be that pair’s first taste of action-proper in an Ulster shirt and the fact that both are making their competitive debuts against last season’s Magners League winners means it promises to be a hugely significant occasion for them.
Already well bedded in, both have made a huge impression on their playing colleagues and the Ulster supporters alike.
Since arriving, Muller and Wannenburg have expressed their desire to play before the Ravenhill crowd in a match with something at stake. Now comes their chance.
Adam D’Arcy — the 24-year-old Irish-qualified full-back from Australia who had such a promising debut against Leeds — is hoping that will be true in his case, too. With Cunningham and Smith sidelined, D’Arcy and David McIlwaine are in contention for the number 15 jersey.
Just which of them will start is one of a number of decisions McLaughlin must make, which is also true of who lines out either side of the full-back.
With first-choice wingers Trimble and Danielli out for the foreseeable future the way is open for some of Ulster’s youngsters to state their case.
Nevin Spence, Mark McCrea, Tommy Seymour and Jonny Shiels are in the frame to face Ospreys, though on this occasion Dungannon’s Craig Gilroy — described by his club’s Director of Rugby, Justin Fitzpatrick, as “a real talent and the most exciting back line prospect I’ve seen in some time” — misses out.
Paul Marshall’s recovery and Ian Porter’s performances while the former has been injured leaves McLaughlin having to choose between them as to who starts at scrum-half.
The same is also true at stand-off where Niall O’Connor and Ian Humphreys are the nominees.
Pre-purchase tickets for Friday's match are available from www.ulsterrugby.com or the Ravenhill ticket 0ffice on 028 9049 3222.