Home advantage and a reinforced starting line-up could prove vital for Ulster as they welcome reigning RaboDirect PRO12 champions Munster to Ravenhill tonight as the festive rugby action moves north.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, December 30
ULSTER (8th) v MUNSTER (3rd), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTÉ Two)
Team News: Ahead of Friday’s sold-out RaboDirect PRO12 derby clash with Munster at Ravenhill, Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has named an entirely changed team.
With two interprovincial derbies in the space of four days, 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.
Meanwhile, just three players who started for Munster against Connacht last weekend remain in the starting line-up for their showdown with Ulster in Belfast.
A four-day turnaround, injuries and the unavailability of his top players means Munster boss Tony McGahan must once again ring the changes for what is always one of the province’s most difficult assignments of the season.
Mick O’Driscoll, Ian Keatley and Luke O’Dea are the trio who have held onto their starting berths, while the likes of Danny Barnes and Niall Ronan, after 10 and 11 starts respectively, have been given a well-earned rest.
Munster’s injury list is a lengthy one at the moment, with David Wallace (knee), Troy Smith (knee), Felix Jones (foot), Jerry Flannery (calf), Doug Howlett (Achilles), Darragh Hurley (back), Mike Sherry (ankle), Peter O’Mahony (jaw), Denis Leamy (hip), Declan Cusack (shoulder) and Sean Scanlon (shoulder) all nursing knocks.
ULSTER: 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.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Luke O’Dea, Tom Gleeson, Lifeimi Mafi, Johne Murphy; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Stephen Archer, Ian Nagle, Mick O’Driscoll (capt), David O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Denis Fogarty, Marcus Horan, John Ryan, Billy Holland, Paddy Butler, Tomas O’Leary, Scott Deasy, Will Chambers.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Paul Haycock (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 2/5; Draw: 16/1; Munster to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Johann Muller (Ulster) – “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.
“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.”
Mick O’Driscoll (Munster) – “Given the very short turnaround and looking at their selection for the Leinster game last week, Ulster have clearly identified this game as the priority.
“Understandable really, they’re at home, no side likes to lose at their own ground. So I think it sets out very clearly the task we face.
“But these are the sort of games you want to be judged on. We’ve a lot of young lads going there tomorrow. Some for the first time. It’s going to be very testing and very interesting.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 79; Tries: Darren Cave 3; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 106; Tries: Danny Barnes 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, October 25, 2008 – Ulster 22 Munster 6, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 3, 2009 – Munster 11 Ulster 37, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 31, 2009 – Munster 24 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 2, 2010 – Ulster 15 Munster 10, Ravenhill
Friday, October 29, 2010 – Ulster 6 Munster 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 1, 2011 – Munster 35 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
– Ulster’s three-match winning run in all competitions ended in Leinster last Monday
– The Ulstermen’s only defeat at Ravenhill in any competition in 2011 was a 23-12 reversal to Benetton Treviso on October 7
– Munster reeled off a third successive victory at home to Connacht last Monday, but have slipped to three straight losses on the road in the RaboDirect PRO12
– The Munstermen have lost only one of their last eight interprovincial clashes. They achieved a season’s double over Ulster in the last campaign