Saturday 24 March 2018

Ulster sparked by Aladdin's Cave of riches in back-line

Ulster's Darren Cave. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
Ulster's Darren Cave. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Still unbeaten and still recruiting from their vast armoury of international stars, the effortlessly smooth passage of Ulster's Guinness Pro12 campaign will seek to maintain an upward graph this evening.

After captain Rory Best's tentative return last weekend in the seminal success in Glasgow, he starts his first game of the campaign while another Irish colleague, winger Tommy Bowe, will bid to cast aside five months of frustration as he bids to be sprung from the bench.

Ulster continue to arrange their back-line riches much as an enthusiastic numismatist might admiringly finger a priceless coin collection.

Charles Piutau thus reverts to full-back, Craig Gilroy, another international, returns from a short injury break to the wing while Jared Payne shifts to midfield along with Darren Cave.

"We've had very strong backlines in very strong teams in the past, but we definitely didn't have the depth that we have at the present," says Cave, admiringly.

"If an Irish international gets injured another comes in, then you can move a player like Charles around and he is so comfortable in any position. So it's a real positive thing.

"In training we have two back-lines against each other that could easily play and start in the league. But at the end of the day we are all better players because of it."

Cave squeezed into the side last weekend and made an immediate try-scoring impression as his side stole their first ever Scotstoun win and shifts to inside centre to accommodate Payne this week.

"If you had said a few weeks ago that Ulster have too many backs, too many centres, an embarrassment of riches etc, but then suddenly straight away due to injury, you are down to the bare bones, like me," he smiles.

"It was great. They were always a bogey fixture for us playing in Scotstoun. They are just a good team and there have been a lot of teams who lost four in a row over there. I wasn't surprised that it was a tough game, and again wasn't surprised that we won.

"Ospreys didn't have their best result at the weekend in Dublin. But to score 24 tries in four games is a ridiculous statistic, so they're obviously playing some fantastic rugby. "

Ospreys make six changes from the team trounced in Leinster, with Sam Davies dropping to the bench and Dan Evans returning at full-back.

Welsh lock Bradley Davies join Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row and Dan Baker replace Tyler Ardron at No 8 while prop Paul James also loses out. Although Ospreys haven't won here since 2010, the sides have shared 13 wins in Celtic League history; Ulster will edge ahead in the rivalry this evening.

Verdict: Ulster

ULSTER - C Piutau; C Gilroy, J Payne, D Cave, L Ludik; P Jackson, P Marshall; K McCall, R Best, R Ah You, A O'Connor, F van der Merwe (capt), I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson. Reps: J Andrew, C Black, R Kane, K Treadwell, R Diack, R Pienaar, B Herron, T Bowe.

OSPREYS - D Evans; J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, S Parry, D Arhip, B Davies, A Wyn Jones (capt), J King, J Tipuric, D Baker. Reps: S Baldwin, P James, M Fia, R Thornton, O Cracknell, T Ardron, T Habberfield.

REF - Ben Whitehouse (WRU)

Ulster v Ospreys,

Live, Sky Sports 5, 6.30

Irish Independent

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