Zebre tie more about getting more game time for returning Wallace and Macklin
Five-point victory almost guaranteed against group whipping boys but plenty to examine in Ulster line-up
Paddy Wallace: “I hope that I can bring a few players along with me because I am so pumped up to play again at Ravenhill”. Photograph: Matt Mackey/Presseye/Inpho
Zebre really is a bad idea. Battered 64-3 by Saracens last weekend and languishing at the bottom of the Pro 12 table, alongside Connacht, with only one victory from nine outings, they are the weakest professional club in Europe.
A five-point victory seems almost guaranteed tonight but at least there is plenty to examine in the Ulster line-up.
Mark Anscombe needs the body count to be nowhere near last season’s 23 injuries between February and March, so welcoming Paddy Wallace and more importantly, Adam Macklin back into the match day squad is a huge boost.
Both had anterior cruciate ligament tears. Wallace was sidelined for nine months, a period that saw Ulster give him a new contract nonetheless.
“My motivation is through the roof,” said the 34 year old. “I hope that I can bring a few players along with me because I am so pumped up to play again at Ravenhill. So many people have supported me through a hard time, such as the medical staff and the strength and conditioning coaches and I want to do their support justice.”
Wallace, capped 188 times by Ulster, has had two run outs for the Ravens in the British and Irish Cup. Macklin’s return to the bench as tighthead cover is due to Declan Fitzpatrick’s virus and John Afoa being down in New Zealand for the umpteenth time.
The presumption is Ulster didn’t want to lose one of the best props in the game – Afoa is Gloucester bound – but factoring in his inability to settle in Belfast the parting of ways this summer may not be such bad business. Especially if Macklin grows into the players he once promised to be.
The other significant selection is Jared Payne at outside centre. Soon to be naturalised, looking from an Irish perspective, a permanent move by Payne to the 13 jersey would be preferable. Not for Darren Cave, mind.
Roger Wilson’s “mild ankle injury” means Robbie Diack goes to number eight, with Mike McComish getting a start at blindside flanker.
The opposition? They will turn up but not much else.