Ulster favoured to win away to Sharks in Richie Murphy’s first game

Familiar look for the Ulster province in game against a talented South African side seriously out of form

URC: Sharks v Ulster, Kings Park, Saturday, 1.0 Irish time – Live on Premier Sports

Richie Murphy takes charge of Ulster for the first time as interim head coach, a position he will fulfil until the end of the season. He said during the week that the role would interest him on a permanent basis so to that end he’s been given an opportunity to build a compelling case to ensure that outcome.

Murphy drove to Belfast on Monday to meet the squad, before a two-leg flight to Durban. There is a familiar look to the team, that is captained by Iain Henderson, now that Ethan McIlroy, James Hume and Stuart McCloskey form the midfield axis with Michael Lowry on the other wing. John Cooney and Billy Burns have been handed the primary game-management roles.

The composition of the backrow has both a nod to the present and the future with the combative Harry Sheridan joining Dave McCann and Nick Timoney. The bench contains fledgling talent in Scott Wilson, Cormac Izuchukwu and Jude Postlethwaite with Murphy electing for a six-two split that includes backrow forwards Matty Rea and Sean Reffell.

It seems barely credible that their hosts have lost 10 of 11 matches this season when you consider the presence of fullback Aphelele Fassi, centre and captain Lukhanyo Am, wing Makazole Mapimpi, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, secondrow Eben Etzebeth and flanker Phepsi Buthelezi. Ox Nche is on the bench.


The visitors will be looking for the bounce effect from a new coach with a set of players looking to impress and with that momentum should have enough in hand – the bookmakers make Ulster 22-point favourites – to squeeze out a win.

SHARKS: A Fassi; E Keyter, L Am (capt), E Hooker, M Mapimpi; S Masuka, J Hendrikse; N Mchunu, B Mbonambi, H Jacobs; E Etzebeth, G Grobler; P Buthelezi, V Tshituka, G Cronje.

Replacements: K van Vuuren, O Nche, V Koch, C Rahl, J Labuschagne, C Wright, C Bosch, F Venter.

ULSTER: W Addison; E McIlroy, J Hume, S McCloskey, M Lowry; B Burns, J Cooney; S Kitshoff, T Stewart, T O’Toole; K Treadwell, I Henderson (capt); H Sheridan, D McCann, N Timoney.

Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick, S Wilson, C Izuchukwu, Matty Rea, N Doak, J Postlethwaite, S Reffell.

Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer