Tuesday 25 July 2017

Ulster prepared to ride out Munster's emotional storm in interprovincial showdown

Ulster v Munster, Live, TG4/BBC 2, 7.05

Ulster's Dan Tuohy
Ulster's Dan Tuohy

Difficult to know how Munster must feel now, so soon after last week's tumultuous Thomond Park outpouring of poise, passion and pride.

One thing is certain: it will be difficult to reach the same soaring heights of performance achieved in Limerick, notwithstanding the five necessary changes made to the side by Rassie Erasmus due to IRFU diktat.

And the director of rugby was keen to link his side's ongoing emotional response to the fact that his side still, for all that has happened since Anthony Foley's untimely passing, remain a work in progress. "It's certainly not as difficult as it is for Olive and the kids and the family," he says. "How tough it was for us is really irrelevant. It's for us to be able to go and perform.

"I always knew this team had it in them to create this kind of result against Glasgow but with the situation and occasion we were in, I wasn't sure that was the week. But yeah, with the quality of the opposition, it was a bit of a surprise to me.

"I think as we move on, different management members, players and coaches will handle it differently. For some, the reality comes back in different stages, in the changing room, in the coach's meeting room.

"We have to remember where the team is coming from last year and the results. The team is growing into something and whether last week will help us or give us is a reality check as to where we are.

"There are two competitions going at the same time and we're back into Pro12 now and playing the long-time table leaders away from home with international players out, last week should give us the confidence to know that even if we don't perform like that every week that we can perform like that.

"The pressure you put on yourself to perform like that every week is something every player and every management member will handle differently. It's how we play, that is where we should put pressure on ourselves."

Squad selection may make Ireland fans sit up and notice but parochial supporters may remain unnerved as to their own side's prospects.

Some Irish stars are available; Paddy Jackson, Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall start despite eight changes for Ulster, while Peter O'Mahony, John Ryan, Billy Holland and Donnacha Ryan play in a Munster side featuring five alterations.

Munster's pack, particularly their back three, looks stronger which it may have to be given Ulster's array of talent in the three-quarters but the absence of a first-choice pairing at half-back mitigates against that advantage.

With Stuart Olding set to miss Ulster's next two matches because of a hip injury, Darren Cave will partner Marshall at centre.

Forwards Wiehahn Herbst and Dan Tuohy will both make their first appearances of the season after long-term injuries.

Iain Henderson is ruled out, with the Ireland star likely to be out for a number of weeks because of a shoulder injury.

Herbst will partner Rob Herring and Callum Black in a totally-changed front-row with Robbie Diack picked alongside Sean Reidy and Roger Wilson in the back-row.

Olding suffered a hip flexor injury in the European win over Exeter, in which locks Peter Browne and Alan O'Connor, and props Rodney Ah You and Ross Kane were also injured.

All four forwards miss Ulster's second interprovincial clash of the season, with former Connacht front-rower Ah You likely to be out of action for four to five weeks.

Duncan Williams and Ian Keatley replace Conor Murray and Tyler Bleyendaal at half-back for Munster.

Out wide, Andrew Conway and Ronan O'Mahony take over from Simon Zebo and the suspended Keith Earls.

The only change to Munster's pack from the Glasgow game sees Jack O'Donoghue stepping in for CJ Stander. "We haven't beaten them in four games," says Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss, whose side's blemish-free opening to the season was undone in successive weeks at Galway and Bordeaux.

"I didn't expect anything less than what they produced against Glasgow. We need to control our emotion, there has only been seven points between the sides in those last four games so we know it will be tight."

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster - C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, D Cave, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring (capt), W Herbst; D Tuohy, F van der Merwe; R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson. Reps: J Andrew, K McCall, A Warwick, C Ross, C Joyce, P Marshall, B Herron, J Stockdale.

Munster - A Conway; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, R O'Mahony; I Keatley, D Williams; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; D Ryan, B Holland; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell, J O'Donoghue. Reps: V O'Brien, B Scott, S Archer, D O'Shea, R Copeland, A Griesel, A Wootton, D Goggin.

Ref - N Owens (WRU)

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