Taxing five-day turnaround forces Anscombe to rest notable trio
RABODIRECT PRO12:He who pays the piper calls the tune and all that. So it is that after a three-week hiatus for the November internationals, Mark Anscombe has to welcome back or rest his core of internationals for this weekend’s top-of-the-table RaboDirect Pro 12 clash away to the Scarlets.
But that televised game, ridiculously, has been fixed for Sunday at 4pm, with the first of their critical and televised back-to-back Heineken Cup pool games away to Northampton just five nights later. He is not amused, and who could blame him?
In the heel of the hunt, television and tournament organisers have conspired to threaten Ulster’s 11-match winning run in both competitions as much as any foes on the pitch.
“That’s the difficulty of it, a five-day turnaround,” said Anscombe. “So we’ve got to try to manage the players, and we’ll be giving a few guys a rest this Sunday. We won’t be taking all our players to the Scarlets but we’ll be taking a strong team and with that in mind we’re really mindful about certain people as to how much gap time they have, or in some cases any at all.”
Ireland squad members Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson and Darren Cave have been named in the 25-man squad for the trip to Wales.
However, Chris Henry and Ruan Pienaar are being rested after each played in all three internationals for Ireland and South Africa respectively, as has Paddy Wallace, who has been an ever-present for Ulster’s last eight games. This would suggest an eighth and fourth start of the season for Paul and Luke Marshall.
On the positive side, Johann Muller and Rory Best have been included in Ulster’s squad ahead of Sunday’s game. The hugely-influential ex-Sharks and 24-times capped Springbok suffered a fractured thumb in the win away to Glasgow just over five weeks ago and according to Anscombe will definitely play against the Scarlets.
Best, sidelined with a neck injury suffered against Dragons a month ago, has recovered well so could return to action earlier than expected. “Rory is seeing a specialist this afternoon and we’ll know more after that and whether he’s going to be fit to get some game time on Sunday or not.”
With nine players involved during the November window (along with three other internationals on the sidelines) Anscombe was an interested spectator. “I was very impressed with the Argentina performance. I don’t think they fired the shots they would have like to against South Africa, but I was really pleased with the development of the young guys from Ulster that took their opportunities for the national team. That was pleasing.
“Also some of the older guys got opportunities and I thought Chris Henry was outstanding in the internationals and showed people what he was really about. He’s been waiting a few years to get that opportunity and he put his hand up and showed what he can do, which is pleasing.”
In developing a challenging environment within Ulster, so much so that eight featured for Ireland, part of their remit was fulfilled in the past month.
“That is what we set out wanting to do as a group, so we can’t grizzle about it. That’s what we set out to do, we got those guys in there. That’s rewarding for those guys and a compliment on the scene that helped get them there.”
After averaging almost 31 points and 3.5 tries per game in their previous nine wins, Ulster were indebted to a 75th-minute penalty try awarded by Scottish referee Neil Paterson for their 27-25 win away to Zebre, despite being outscored four tries to two, and to a 79th-minute missed penalty by Treviso’s Alberto Di Bernardo in their 16-15 win at the Stadio di Monigo last Friday, when outscored by two tries to one.
“We know ourselves that we didn’t play well and we were lucky to get those two wins,” accepts Anscombe.
“There’s no secret to that, but we got two wins and maybe in the past we wouldn’t have got them.
“We had a lot of guys away but it gave opportunities to some of our younger guys and they’ll be wiser for it. But we know that our last couple of performances are not the type of performances that are going to maintain the levels that we need to get to.”
ULSTER(squad v Scarlets, Sunday): Forwards(14) – Rob Herring, Rory Best, Callum Black, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, John Afoa, Neil McComb, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Mike McComish, Roger Wilson, Nick Williams. Backs(11) – Michael Heaney, Paul Marshall, Niall O’Connor, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne, Peter Nelson.