Bradley upbeat despite Ulster's momentum
RABODIRECT PRO12 Ulster v EdinburghEDINBURGH HAVE been so poor this season that the scalping of Toulouse at Murrayfield last season seems like a dream. Or at the very least an anomaly.
In stark contrast, Ulster have been a revelation. Or at the very least have grown into a side that is finally reaching the standards David Humphreys envisioned for them when he took over as director of rugby.
Their perfect start to the campaign, on both league and European fronts, shows no sign of abating even considering the loss of their best players to Ireland and injury. This squad has been built to last and right now only the top French clubs look a threat to them.
In contrast, Michael Bradley’s Edinburgh side have been humiliatingly failed to score in both their European pool matches by Saracens and Munster, conceding a shocking 78 points, making the coach’s comments ahead of this fixture a little surprising, arguably brave. “Because of the changes imposed on both Ulster and Edinburgh by availability, the game is up for grabs for whichever 15 players takes hold of it,” said Bradley.
True, Ulster are missing Paddy Jackson – surely he won’t be selected by Declan Kidney on the Irish bench ahead of Ronan O’Gara? – Andrew Trimble, Tom Court, Rory Best, Darren Cave, Chris Henry, Dan Tuohy and Johann Müller but there are several other reasons to expect another typically dominant performance from Mark Anscombe’s unbeaten team.
Craig Gilroy, Paul Marshall and Stephen Ferris have returned from Ireland camp, while Ruan Pienaar switches to outhalf before rejoining the South African squad next week.
It being a Lions year, Ferris probably needs to get motoring soon as well.
Perhaps the best sight of all will be the prodigal Roger Wilson starting at number eight at Ravenhill for the first time since leaving for the Northampton Saints in 2008.
There is a debut for Ricky Andrew at fullback but the silver lining with that call is Jared Payne can finally switch to outside centre, the position where he made his name in New Zealand.
Edinburgh are not expected to hurt this Ulster team without the likes of Scottish outhalf Greig Laidlaw. So far this season, even at full strength, they have shown only the briefest glimpses of being a team worth worrying about. A positive? They are good at picking up losing bonus points. They have four of them from five Pro 12 defeats.
“It’s a great challenge for us,” said Bradley. “We’ve had a disappointing run of late and have spoken about how great a place it would be to end that run, so we’re approaching the game in a very positive frame of mind.
“Ravenhill has become a bit of a fortress so it’s a daunting task. They will be well supported and are on an unbeaten run but, from our point of view, we’re desperate to get a win, we’ve trained well this week and are very focused and driven to do a job.”
Ulster to have the bonus point banked by 60 minutes.
ULSTER: R Andrew; C Cochrane, J Payne, P Wallace, C Gilroy; R Pienaar, P Marshall; C Black, N Brady (capt), J Afoa, L Stevenson, N McComb, S Ferris, M McComish, R Wilson. Replacements: N Annett, R Lutton, A Macklin, R Diack, N Williams, N O’Connor, S Olding, P Nelson.
EDINBURGH: G Tonks, L Jones, J Houston, J King, T Brown, G Hunter, C Leck, J Yapp, A Titterrell, W Nel, G Gilchrist, R McAlpine, S Cox (capt), R Grant, S McInally. Replacements: A Walker, A Jacobsen, L Niven, van der Westhuizen, Watson, Rees, Fife, S Visser.
Referee: N Owens(WRU).
Verdict: Ulster win.