Ahead of Friday’s sold-out RaboDirect PRO12 derby clash with Munster at Ravenhill, Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has named an entirely changed starting line-up.
With two interprovincial derbies in the space of four days, Brian McLaughlin has coached two separate teams for the games and the line-up for this Friday’s match has a much more familiar look to it.
However, Ulster are without a number of players due to injury and a bout of tummy bug in the squad, while the Ireland internationals are also unavailable due to a training camp.
“It’s a huge game for it, it’s at Ravenhill and it’s against Munster. When the fixture list came out we were not very happy with the fact that we had a four-day turnaround, but we just have to manage the scheduling as best we can,” admitted McLaughlin.
“We want to put our best team out on the pitch as often as we possibly can, but the Irish management programme looks after the internationals and we have to look after the rest of the players as well so we took the decision, and it was not taken lightly, to run two separate squads for two games.”
Nevin Spence’s ankle injury, sustained during Ulster’s trip to Aironi, sees Ian Whitten recalled to the team for the first time since Ulster faced Benetton Treviso in October.
Whitten will partner Darren Cave in the centre while Stefan Terblanche will make his first start for Ulster since arriving at the beginning of the month.
The South African, brought in as cover for the injured Jared Payne on a short-term contract, has come off the bench twice for Ulster so far.
Elsewhere Willie Faloon makes a return to the back row alongside Pedrie Wannenburg and Chris Henry, while Callum Black, Ali Birch, Chris Farrell and Peter Nelson, who all made their Ulster debuts against Leinster, have been named amongst the replacements this time.
Ulster captain Johann Muller is looking forward to facing the defending league champions. He said: “It’s a big game and I don’t have to say a lot to lift the guys for it, we all know that the games between Irish provinces are the big games for the team.
“This week training has been outstanding, a lot of energy, there’s nothing like a week off to refresh the body and mind and get everyone really keen to play rugby again.
“We know what’s coming, we know Munster are an outstanding team but we’re at Ravenhill, we have a great record there and we want to keep it that way.”
The South African added: “Munster’s strength is their consistency – it doesn’t matter what tournament they play in, they’re always there or thereabouts.
“They are a team that never says die, that’s the Munster that I’ve got to know over the last 18 months or so, they are always there and if they don’t win they’ll always get a losing bonus point.
“Consistency is a key for them, and as a squad it’s something we can learn from.”
The Ulster v Munster festive fixture is sold out and there will be no tickets available for sale on the gates. Gates open at 5.30pm and those with tickets are advised to come to the ground early given the capacity crowd.
ULSTER (v Munster): Adam D’Arcy; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Stefan Terblanche; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Paddy McAllister, Andi Kyriacou, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Ali Birch, Paul Marshall, Chris Farrell, Peter Nelson.