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Murphy Makes First Ulster Selection For Tour Opener In Durban

Murphy Makes First Ulster Selection For Tour Opener In Durban

Richie Murphy is pictured on the night of his final game with the Ireland Under-20 Men's team in Cork last week ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Iain Henderson returns from Ireland’s successful Guinness Men’s Six Nations title defence to captain Ulster against the Hollywoodbets Sharks in Durban on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 3pm local time/1pm Irish time).

Ulster’s interim head coach Richie Murphy has selected a strong team for his first match in charge, as the province resume their BKT United Rugby Championship campaign with back-to-back games in South Africa.

The Ulstermen, who are fifth in the table and just outside the top four, are hoping to carry on from where they left off before the break. Assistant coach Dan Soper was at the helm for their 49-26 bonus point victory at home to the Dragons.

Kieran Treadwell makes his first start since sustaining a rib injury against Harlequins in January, pairing up with skipper and fellow Ireland international Henderson in the second row.

They back up a formidable looking front row trio of South Africa’s own Steven Kitshoff, and Ireland pair Tom Stewart and Tom O’Toole. With seven tries in nine appearances, hooker Stewart is the URC’s third leading try scorer so far this season.

Harry Sheridan, who reverts from lock to blindside flanker, played for the Ireland U-20s under Murphy in 2021. David McCann and Nick Timoney complete the back row. Between them, Sheridan and McCann (2) scored three of Ulster’s seven tries against the Dragons.

John Cooney, who has the best place-kicking percentage (90.48%) across the URC this year, and Billy Burns lead a back-line that includes just one change as Stuart McCloskey returns from international duty to feature in midfield.

James Hume, who captained Ulster in the Dragons game, completes the centre pairing, and Will Addison and Michael Lowry, two of the try scorers from three weeks ago, form a potent back-three with the 23-year-old Ethan McIlroy.

Murphy has opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench, with Nathan Doak and Jude Postlethwaite covering the backs. The reserve forwards are John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Academy prop Scott Wilson, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matthew Rea, and Sean Reffell.

Speaking ahead of the round 12 clash, the Bray man said: “There is a very good back-line here (at Ulster) but the game now is about all 15 players, attack and defence is all interconnected.

“The backs will only be able to show what they can do if our forwards are solid. We want to build the set-piece, our lineouts, scrums, and we want to play the ball into space.

“When you look at the Sharks team it is star-studded, and when you look at their results they have been a little off but that’s not going to stay there forever.

“We have to go there, be ourselves, and play our game. We’ve been trying to build on who we are and what we are about, and hopefully we see that on Saturday.”

ULSTER (v Hollywoodbets Sharks): Will Addison; Ethan McIlroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Michael Lowry; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Steven Kitshoff, Tom Stewart, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (capt), Harry Sheridan, David McCann, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Scott Wilson, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matthew Rea, Nathan Doak, Jude Postlethwaite, Sean Reffell.