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Ulster Unchanged For Challenge Cup Quarter-Final

Ulster Unchanged For Challenge Cup Quarter-Final

The Ulstermen return to England less than a week on from their 57-21 last-16 defeat of Harlequins ©INPHO/James Crombie

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has announced an unchanged team for Saturday’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final tie against Northampton Saints.

Captain Iain Henderson, who suffered a shoulder injury in the last round of the Guinness Six Nations, remains a notable absentee. He also missed last Sunday’s 57-21 round of 16 win away to Harlequins.

For tomorrow’s 8pm kick-off at Franklin’s Gardens, the in-form Michael Lowry and Robert Baloucoune form the back-three with Ireland regular Jacob Stockdale.

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James Hume and Stuart McCloskey man the centre positions, outside of half-backs Billy Burns and John Cooney who have key roles to play as the Ulstermen look to end a run of four European quarter-final defeats.

Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, who touched down twice at Harlequins, and Martin Moore continue together in the front row, supported by locks Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell.

Sean Reidy, last week’s try-scoring star-of-the-match, and Nick Timoney will combine again with stand-in captain Jordi Murphy in the loose forwards.

The one squad change is on the bench where Greg Jones takes over from the injured Cormac Izuchukwu, who damaged his knee during his European debut last Sunday night.

John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole and Matthew Rea are the other forward replacements, while Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan and Ethan McIlroy are the back-line options.

Looking forward to the last-eight encounter, prop O’Sullivan said: “It’s obviously a goal in the squad to consistently compete for Championships. We know that’s there and it’s always in our minds, but we know it’s one game at a time and we won’t get ahead of ourselves. 

“Northampton are a very good team and the competition is stacked. You can’t afford to be thinking like that and you have to respect the opposition you’re coming up against.  

“It’s definitely a competition we want to win. We’re very ambitious as a group so it’s about getting out there and backing that up. It’s all well and good just saying that, but we need to perform as well and that starts at the weekend with Northampton.

“Taking that confidence (from last week’s performance) into the game this weekend is going to be huge. We know, as forwards, that Northampton have a huge pack so having the result from last weekend is nice and we can put it up to Northampton on Saturday.

“We take as much to learn from the (Harlequins) game as we would out of a loss – just because we’ve gone well doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of areas to improve. We know what we need to get better at.” 

ULSTER (v Northampton Saints): Michael Lowry; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (capt), Nick Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matthew Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.