Young gun Olding set for Ulster debut
TEENAGER Stuart Olding will make his first start for Ulster when they face defending Pro12 champions Ospreys at Ravenhill this evening.
Olding, who played full-back for the Ireland U-20 side in Wales last weekend, will slot in at fly-half after making three appearances as a replacement for Ulster during their Pro12 campaign.
With Paddy Jackson sidelined with an ankle injury, and following some classy performances for the Ravens and his club Belfast Harlequins, the 19-year-old is given his chance ahead of Niall O'Connor.
Olding will have plenty of experience around him with scrum-half Ruan Pienaar on one side and Paddy Wallace on the other, while Andrew Trimble and Michael Allen are on the wings.
Ricky Andrew continues to cover for the injured Jared Payne, while Luke Marshall is one of two big hitters back from injury as he wears the No 13 jersey with Darren Cave, who was released by the Ireland team management, on the bench.
Gordon D'Arcy's struggles have demonstrated a lack of depth at inside centre and Declan Kidney will be keeping a keen eye on Marshall's progress.
With Ulster, and Ireland, not exactly awash with tightheads, Tom Court wears the No 3 jersey for the first time since that debacle at Twickenham last season. John Afoa is still in New Zealand, while Declan Fitzpatrick is with Ireland and Adam Macklin is out injured.
Johann Muller is itching to return after a frustrating period of rest following hand and arm injuries which have seen him miss 10 of Ulster's 19 games this season.
Muller, who has just signed up for a further season at Ravenhill, oversees a mixture of old and young as the table-toppers look to consolidate their place in the chase for the play-offs.
"We've done brilliantly so far this season, but the next eight to 12 weeks is obviously going to define the season. The important stuff is coming up now," said Muller.
Ulster's faithful will be confident of gaining another win to keep their play-off charge on track.
ULSTER – R Andrew; A Trimble, L Marshall, P Wallace, M Allen; S Olding, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring, T Court; J Muller (capt), L Stevenson; M McComish, A Birch, R Diack. Reps: N Annett, R Lutton, A Warwick, D Tuohy, N McComb, P Marshall, D Cave, C Cochrane.
OSPREYS – R Fussell; T Habberfield, T Isaacs, J Spratt, B John; M Morgan, K Fotuali'i; R Bevington, S Baldwin, C Griffiths; I Gough, J King; M Allen, S Lewis, J Bearman. Reps: M Dwyer, D Jones, D Arhip, AW Jones, L Peers, A Ellis, R Jones, J Murphy.
REF – M Mitrea (FIR).
Ulster v Ospreys,
Live, BBC 2, 7.05