Winger Tommy Bowe has been released from the Ireland World Cup squad to be included in Ulster’s panel of players for Friday’s pre-season friendly against Leeds Carnegie at Ravenhill (kick-off 7.30pm).
Bowe, who has been providing back-up in the Irish squad for the injured Shane Horgan, is back on duty with his province, having been named amongst the replacements for the clash with Leeds.
Ulster coach Mark McCall has a total of 19 players unavailable for selection due to World Cup commitments and injuries and will be pleased to have a player of Bowe’s calibre to call on. Mark Kettyle has been bumped up to fill the ‘AN Other’ spot at number 14, with Bowe added to the bench.
McCall’s selected team is a mix of youth and experience, with young Ulster Academy backs Mark McCrea and Niall O’Connor, who steps in for the injured David Humphreys at out-half, set to make their debuts. Ireland-capped back rower Roger Wilson will captain the province for the first time and the 25-year-old will be delighted to lead the team out at Ravenhill.
“I’ve never captained a side before and it’s an honour to be selected to captain Ulster against Leeds. I think I have enough experience at this level to take on the responsibility. The absence of some senior players and the debut of some younger members will put more pressure on me to perform but I think I’m up to the challenge,” Wilson admitted.
Coach McCall is looking forward to seeing how some of Ulster’s more inexperienced players cope in a full-on match after a long summer of training.
“This is probably the longest pre-season we’ve had, for some of the guys it’s been 10 weeks and it’s been an unusual one with the schedules of the Ireland players giving a number of younger players the opportunity to prove themselves whilst training with the Ulster squad,” said the former Ireland centre.
“The team selected for the Leeds game will expose some of Ulster’s young talent and it will be exciting to see how they perform. For this match 19 players were unavailable, 15 of whom are Internationals and we are still fielding a good side – I think that says a lot about the quality of our current crop of players.”
O’Connor, who was part of Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning Under-20 squad last season, has big shoes to fill with Humphreys currently sidelined due to an ankle injury.
McCall explained: “Thankfully David’s injury is not as serious as first thought, and the positive aspect is that Niall, who is a promising out-half, will get a great opportunity this Friday. Everyone within Ulster Rugby have been impressed with Niall from the outset – from his attitude to his dedication to training. All he needs is an opportunity and some exposure and we are all very confident that he’ll do a great job for us against Leeds.”
ULSTER (v Leeds Carnegie): Mark Bartholomeusz; Mark Keyttle, Darren Cave, Paul Steinmetz, Mark McCrea; Niall O’Connor, Kieran Campbell; Justin Fitzpatrick, Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Tim Barker, Ryan Caldwell, Chris Henry, Neil McMillan, Roger Wilson (capt).
Replacements (from): Jarlath Carey, Stuart Philpott, Tommy Bowe, Filo Paulo, Matt McCullough, Thomas Anderson, David Pollock, Paul Marshall, Adam Larkin, Seamus Mallon, Bryn Cunningham.