Ulster's Boks to test Munster
ULSTER are banking on South African grit to prevent a third defeat in a row as they take on table-toppers Munster at Ravenhill tonight (7.05).
BJ Botha is injured but Brian McLaughlin is still able to name four South Africans, with Johann Muller captaining from the second-row, Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half and Pedrie Wannenburg alongside Robbie Diack in the back row. Of that quartet, Diack (24) is the only non-Springbok (he qualifies to play for Ireland in June) and, after bad defeats in Biarritz and Edinburgh, Ulster will look to that hard core of experience to prevent any sense of panic in the squad.
Both sides have been hit by international call-ups but Ulster, missing Rory Best, Paddy Wallace and Stephen Ferris, are not as badly affected as Munster, who are without a host of front-liners.
Johne Murphy and Peter Stringer are back from Ireland duty and further experience comes from Doug Howlett, Paul Warwick, John Hayes and also Alan Quinlan, Niall Ronan and James Coughlan. But coach Tony McGahan has also had to call up Ivan Dineen in the centre, Mike Sherry at hooker and Ian Nagle next to Billy Holland in the second row.
Ulster's bench is packed with academy players, with Nevin Spence in the centre next to Ian Whitten, while Barry Murphy is a welcome inlcusion in the Munster replacements.
Munster have not triumphed in Ravenhill since 2007 and Ulster have won four out of the last five meetings. Last season, Munster pulled off a superb victory in Connacht when unable to select their main men but this looks a far trickier assignment.
ULSTER -- A D'Arcy; M McCrea, I Whitten, N Spence, D McIlwaine; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; P McAllister, N Brady, B Young; J Muller (capt), T Barker; P Wannenburg, W Faloon, R Diack. Reps: A Kyriacou, J Cronin, A Whitten, D Tuohy, C Henry, P Marshall, N O'Connor, L Marshall.
MUNSTER -- S Deasy; D Howlett, J Murphy, I Dineen, Dennis Hurley; P Warwick, P Stringer; W du Preez, M Sherry, J Hayes; B Holland, I Nagle; A Quinlan, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Reps: S Henry, Darragh Hurley, S Archer, T O'Donnell, P O'Mahony, D Williams, B Murphy, S Zebo.
REF -- A Lewis (Ireland).
Ulster v Munster, Live, TG4, 7.05