Anscombe forced to make 11 changes for trip to Glasgow
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe will know a little bit more about the depth of his squad after tonight’s match in Glasgow and he’ll also have a better appreciation of what his provincial counterparts Joe Schmidt (Leinster) and Rob Penney (Munster) face on a regular basis on international weekends.
The promotion of Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall and Tom Court to the Ireland team to face Scotland, coupled with the presence of hooker Rory Best and wing Craig Gilroy – Iain Henderson is on the bench – at Murrayfield means that Ulster are somewhat underpowered tonight.
It’s a state of affairs that is compounded by long-term injuries to Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe, and a groin tear suffered by captain, Johann Muller, last weekend. Chris Henry was also injured (knee) in that match and faces a month on the sidelines.
Anscombe makes 11 changes, the four survivors from the starting team that beat Zebre, are fullback Ricky Andrew, scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, number eight Robbie Diack and Andrew Trimble, who switches from the wing into his old position of outside centre. It’s something of nostalgic evening, position wise, as Paddy Wallace reverts to outhalf.
Dublin-born wing Neil Walsh and flanker Conor Joyce both start a competitive match for Ulster for the first time. It’s not unrelenting gloom for Anscombe as secondrow and Irish international Dan Tuohy makes a welcome return from injury. John Afoa will captain the side in the absence of both Muller and Henry. Paul Marshall and Darren Cave start on the bench.
Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend has also suffered diminished playing resources because of international commitments and must make six alterations to the team that thumped the Newport Gwent Dragons 60-3 at Rodney Parade last weekend, scoring eight tries in the process.
Won last five
Indeed the Scottish franchise has won their last five Pro12 matches since losing 6-0 at Leinster. Townsend explained: “We played some very good rugby last week and scored some excellent tries but I believe there is more to come from this group of players.”
Injuries and Test match duty means that Glasgow’s frontrow replacements tonight have been called up from the club game. Townsend admitted: “It’s not the first time this season that we’ve faced some challenges around our frontrow options but you just have to deal with it and work out the best solution in order to put the team in a winning position.”
Peter Horne, making his 50th appearance for the home side, has recovered from a fracture that has kept him out of the Scotland squad. He starts at outhalf. Ulster should be competitive nonetheless but that might not quite suffice on the night.