Ulster caretaker coach Steve Williams has announced the province’s team and replacements for Friday’s vital Heineken Cup pool clash with Bourgoin at Stade Pierre Rajon (kick-off 9pm local time).
It has been a turbulent week for Ulster Rugby with the news on Tuesday morning that Mark McCall had resigned as head coach after three and a half years in charge. Assistant coach Steve Williams has assumed the reins in the interim while Ulster Rugby begin a search for McCall’s successor.
There has been little time for the players or management team to dwell on the situation as the squad prepare for the challenge that lies ahead for them – trying to beat Bourgoin for their first win on French soil and keep their Heineken Cup campaign on track.
This afternoon, Williams has announced his team for Friday’s encounter and the starting line-up sees several changes to the team that was beaten 32-14 by Gloucester at Ravenhill last Friday night.
There are four new inclusions in the starting fifteen with fans’ favourite Paul Steinmtez named at inside centre, following his return from a head injury that ruled him out for two months. Scotland winger Simon Danielli also returns on the left wing and Australian Mark Bartholomeusz has been preferred to Bryn Cunningham at full-back.
The inclusion of Steinmetz sees Scottish centre Rob Dewey drop to the replacements bench, while Danielli, who has seen action in recent weeks for AIB League club Malone, takes the number 11 jersey from youngster Mark McCrea.
Commenting on the return of Steinmetz, Williams said: “Paul’s inclusion in the squad is a real boost. He is a very creative and organised player who has been training well these last few weeks. He’s clearly a top quality rugby player and is raring to get on the pitch.”
Ulster’s half-back partnership remains the same with Paddy Wallace and Isaac Boss starting. Former captain David Humphreys drops from the matchday squad due to a recurrence of the ankle injury that has plagued him this season, and his place on the bench has been taken by Academy player Niall O’Connor.
The front row remains unchanged from last weekend, however there is a switch in the second row with Matt McCullough returning to partner former Bourgoin player Carlo Del Fava with Ryan Caldwell acting as cover on the bench. Former Wallaby Justin Harrison drops from the squad.
In the back row, flanker Kieron Dawson returns from injury to start at openside and will line out alongside Neil Best and Roger Wilson.
Reflecting on what has been a difficult few days for everyone involved at Ulster Rugby, Williams added: “It has been a tough week for everyone at Ulster, people are very upset about what has happened and really there is no point in pretending that we aren’t.
“But we have a game coming up at the weekend no matter what has happened. We are all in the process of getting over the news, but one eye this week is always going to be on Friday night and we have to keep going on.
“Obviously we are not on top form and almost at the point where we have to try new things. It is important that we do not go into our shell this weekend and we are as constructive as possible.
“Bourgoin have an impressive pack, they are very typically French, they have big direct centres and hard-running wingers with bags of pace. We are well aware of the challenge we face on Friday night and we intend to hit them head on,” he insisted.
ULSTER (v Bourgoin): Mark Bartholomeusz; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Paul Steinmetz, Simon Danielli; Paddy Wallace, Isaac Boss; Justin Fitzpatrick, Rory Best (capt), Bryan Young, Matt McCullough, Carlo Del Fava, Neil Best, Kieron Dawson, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Caldwell, David Pollock, Kieran Campbell, Niall O’Connor, Rob Dewey.