Ellison back for Munster
His absence was initially a source of mourning, and although Munster have begun to equip themselves admirably without their midfield lynchpin in recent weeks, the province will still welcome back Rhys Ellison with open arms for their European Cup match in Neath this Saturday.
The 31-year-old Kiwi centre returns following a two-month absence after breaking a bone in his ankle in the 56th minute of the inter-provincial opener in the Sports ground on August 15th. Coming hard on the heels of Leinster recalling Ciaran Clarke and Reggie Corrigan from long-term injuries, it suggests that both provinces are trying to get all hands back on deck with an eye to their provincial decider on Friday week.
This is an even bigger game for the provinces than trips to Neath and Stade Francais. Perhaps not too much can be expected of Ellison on Saturday, though he should be better for the outing come Donnybrook six days later, and a comeback at the Gnoll ought to sharpen his edge more than a return in the Munster Club League.
Ellison, who was sidelined for eight games, has managed to return from the sidelines more quickly than most might have done with a similar injury. "Rhys is very professional and has been training since the second week of getting his plaster on," said Munster coach Declan Kidney.
The straight-running, hard-tackling centre had a rowing machine installed in his house "to keep up his aerobic fitness, and for the last three weeks he has done some anaerobic fitness before returning to contract training this week," according to Kidney. Cian Mahony makes way for Ellison.
The team is otherwise unchanged, testimony to the four successive wins which preceded the defeat in Paris, when five substitutions contributed, in part, to a second-half comeback.
Ulster have retained the starting XV which set them on their way to a 61-28 win over Ebbw Vale for tomorrow's attractive Pool C tie against inaugural European Cup winners Toulouse. "I'm happier with the way things are going now, and the confidence is back," admitted Ulster coach Harry Williams. "We're looking forward to this one; there should be a bit of a buzz in Ravenhill."
Here, too, the province have been buoyed by the news that James Topping could be returning to the Ballymena side this weekend for his first game since his South African tour was curtailed by a shoulder injury.
Another leading man on the comeback trail is Eric Elwood, who will "hopefully" be back in contention next week for Connacht's final inter-provincial away to Ulster. Admittedly, Simon Allnutt's rich vein of form (59 points in four games, including four tries) has made Elwood's return a less pressing problem than would have been the case previously.
What's more, Connacht have won their last four on the spin, so Glenn Ross makes only two changes from the side which completed a third one-point victory in eight days at the expense of Rovigo on Sunday for this Saturday's European Shield, Pool A table topper with Narbonne in the Sports ground.
Ian Dillon, who cried off on the morning of the Rovigo match, returns at the expense of Shane McEntee.
Munster (v Neath): B Roche; J Kelly, K Keane, R Ellison, A Horgan; B Everitt, P Stringer; P Clohessy, M McDermott, J Hayes, M Galwey (capt), M O'Driscoll, A Quinlan, A Foley, E Halvey. Replacements (from) - B Walsh, M Lynch, Cian Mahony, S Johnson, D Wallace, D Corkery, F Sheehan, I Murray, S Leahy.
Connacht (v Narbonne): W Ruane; R Southam, P Duignan, M Murphy (capt), A Reddan; S Allnutt, C McGuinness; J Screene, B Mulcahy, M Cahill, G Heaslip, J Duffy, J Charlie, B Gavin, I Dillon. Replacements - D Reddan, O Cobbe, N Carolan, J McVeigh, J Casserley, S McEntee, J Maher.
Ulster (v Toulouse): S Mason; S Coulter, J Bell, C van Rensburg, J Cunningham; D Humphreys (capt), S Bell; J Fitzpatrick, A Clarke, R Irwin, M Blair, G Longwell, S McKinty, T McWhirter, A Ward. Replacements - A Park, B Cunningham, A Matchett, S Duncan, D Topping, G Leslie, R Weir.