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O’Toole Comes In As Ulster’s Only Change

O’Toole Comes In As Ulster’s Only Change

Drogheda-born youngster Tom O'Toole will pack down in Ulster's starting front row against Bath ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Ireland prospect Tom O’Toole will don the number 3 jersey for Ulster when they host Bath in Saturday’s sold-out Heineken Champions Cup Pool 3 decider at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 3.15pm).

It will be O’Toole’s first start in the tournament proper after he featured in the Champions Cup qualification play-off win over the Ospreys in May 2018. The 21-year-old prop was named in Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations squad earlier this week.

With Clermont Auvergne on 20 points, Harlequins on nine and Bath on four, Ulster (17 points) are guaranteed a top-two finish in their pool, but qualification for the quarter-finals is not yet assured.

Dan McFarland’s men need to move onto 20 points to guarantee a quarter-final spot, so a four-try bonus point draw would suffice. However, they will be fully focused on secure their place with a lot less drama via a victory over Bath.

O’Toole’s selection at tighthead is the only change to the Ulster side that lost 29-13 away to Clermont. He steps up in the absence of Martin Moore (ankle), joining Alan O’Connor and internationals Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and captain Iain Henderson in the tight five.

Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee complete the starting pack, with John Cooney, who is setting the pace as the Champions Cup’s leading scorer (67 points) and Billy Burns, one of the province’s latest Ireland call-ups, retained as the half-back pairing.

Centres Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey will be relishing another big European day in Belfast, while full-back Will Addison has shaken off a calf injury to start, Jacob Stockdale continues on the left wing, and Robert Baloucoune’s consistent form has seen him included in the extended Six Nations squad as a development player.

Fellow winger Craig Gilroy and forwards Ross Kane and Nick Timoney return to Ulster’s bench, with Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan and Kieran Treadwell making up the other forward options. David Shanahan and Bill Johnston are the reserve half-backs.

Understandably eager to confirm Ulster’s presence in the last-eight, second row O’Connor said: “It’s always special there (playing at Kingspan). Everyone else seems to think we are doing something special as well so we just have to keep everyone on the field, turn up with the right attitude and knock their attitude out of them.

“Bath have class players who don’t have much to lose and love playing rugby. That makes them dangerous. Their coach will be saying, ‘It doesn’t really matter what you do, you can throw as many 50-50s as you want’, and they have threats all over the place.

“If you give those guys licence to do what they want the likelihood is they will pull something good out, so we have to be on the money and if they want to come and play loose, we have to make sure we’re nice and tight.”

ULSTER (v Bath): Will Addison; Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Craig Gilroy.