Ulster get welcome run out before the one that matters


A MERE prelude before Ulster storm Thomond Park in nine days time in the Heineken Cup.

This fixture is a curious tune-up for their biggest challenge since the 1999 European Cup final, mainly because it is of little value.

In stark contrast, Munster get the blood flowing against Leinster tomorrow. Hardly seems fair.

Anyway, this looks very close to the starting XV Brian McLaughlin will field in Limerick. Stefan Terblanche is a vital component, possessing the experience to survive Ronan O’Gara’s kicking assault – Darren Cave’s return to midfield also seems important – while Andrew Trimble, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris need this run out.

As does Tom Court, significantly at loosehead prop. Players, pundits and coaches all leaped to his defence after he was folded and squashed at Twickenham but Court gets a chance at atonement against BJ Botha.

The Springbok tighthead, of course, opted to leave Belfast last summer to join Munster. So Ulster signed an All Black instead; John Afoa, who together with Best and Court must become a scrummaging superpower over the coming weeks if Ulster are to be European champions.

It also seems like McLaughlin, after some wavering, is going with Ian Humphreys at 10 and Ruan Pienaar at nine, despite Paul Marshall’s attempts to nail down the scrumhalf role with Pienaar at outhalf.

It should be noted the only other time Munster have lost a Heineken Cup match at Thomond Park, against Leicester in 2007, Humphreys was excellent at outhalf for the English club.

Other decisions? Lewis Stevenson has muscled his way into the secondrow alongside captain Johann Muller, with Irish international Dan Tuohy benched.

“Lewis has been in very good form over the past couple of months,” McLaughlin explained. “He was very good for us when he came off the bench in Treviso for the final 15 or 20 minutes, so he deserves his chance.”

Another tight call was the backrow: Chris Henry’s belligerent approach must be facilitated so the soon-to-depart Pedrie Wannenburg gets the eight jersey ahead of Robbie Diack.

ULSTER: S Terblanche; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), L Stevenson; S Ferris, C Henry, P Wannenburg. Replacements: N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, D Tuohy, W Faloon, P Marshall, I Whitten, A D’Arcy.

AIRONI: G Toniolatti; S Sinoti, R Quartaroli, M Pratichetti, G Venditti; N Olivier, T Tebaldi; A De Marchi, F Ongaro, F Staibano; G Biagi, C Del Favo (capt); J Furno, N Cattina, M Bergamasco. Replacements: A Denti, A De Marchi, S Perugini, Q Geldenhuys, F Ferrarini, T Keats, L Orquera, G Pavan.

Referee: N Patterson (SRU).

Verdict: Ulster bonus point win.