Minimal changes and momentum give Ulster the edge

Darren Sweetnam, Jean Kleyn, Conor Oliver and Tommy O’Donnell are back for Munster

Munster’s Sam Arnold: how he  fares against Will Addison promises to be an interesting midfield battle. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Munster’s Sam Arnold: how he fares against Will Addison promises to be an interesting midfield battle. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Pro 14: Ulster v Munster

Kick off: 7.35pm, Friday. Venue: Kingspan Stadium. On TV: Eir Sport and Premier Sports.

Sibling rivalry over the Christmas and new year period adopts various guises as the Irish provinces square off against each other, a sequence of three matches that are rarely less than full blooded irrespective of team selection because all the combatants have something to prove.

This match is a classic case in point as Munster head coach Johann van Graan makes 13 changes to the team that lost in a tempestuous Champions Cup tie away to Castres Olympique – fullback Mike Haley and centre Sammy Arnold the only survivors.

His Ulster counterpart Dan McFarland makes minimal alterations to the side that scuttled the Scarlets at the Kingspan last time out.The outstanding Iain Henderson is an injury-enforced absentee – Ian Nagle on a short-term loan from Leinster deputises – while the other two changes see Rob Herring take over from Rory Best as hooker and captain, and Irish Sevens international Robert Baloucoune coming in for the free-scoring Jacob Stockdale on the left wing.

McFarland has overseen an excellent run of results recently, and obviously wants to sustain that momentum while conscious of the almighty shellacking Ulster received earlier in the season in Limerick.

Van Graan has a slightly different selection agenda – a group of players would have been in Ireland camp early in the week – and is certain to pick a much stronger team when Leinster visit Thomond Park on Saturday week.

Match minutes

The Irish player management programme has a significant impact on team selections as match minutes are managed carefully, while there is also the consideration of the Conference tables; Ulster and Leinster are not in Munster’s conference and therefore not direct rivals for a place in the playoffs.

Darren Sweetnam, Jean Kleyn, Conor Oliver and Tommy O’Donnell are back for Munster following injuries of varying severity, while there are a number of players who understand the value of opportunity when it’s an irregular occurrence.

There are duels that have broader connotations, one of which will be to see how Arnold fares against Will Addison in what promises to be an interesting midfield battle.

JJ Hanrahan was match-of-the-match in his last start for Munster, and will be keen to reinforce that form. Kleyn and Botha will add power up front, while Oliver, in his first game of the season, is a talented prospect; so too Bill Johnston, Shane Daly, Fineen Wycherley and Gavin Coombes, young players with ability and athleticism.

Cutting edge

Ulster have found a playing rhythm that has brought victories, with Stuart McCloskey, Addison and Henry Speight providing a cutting edge, the halfbacks intelligent direction and the backrow a huge appetite to work on both sides of the ball.

Marty Moore has brought stability to the scrum, while Eric O’Sullivan has been a revelation. The home side are short in terms of fit secondrows, so flanker Clive Ross acts as cover.

McFarland’s side are eight-point favourites, a rating that is informed by selection, the momentum of recent performances and a chance to offer some redress to their supporters who made that trip to Thomond Park.

Munster will be competitive, but maybe a little undercooked in terms of cohesion with a scratch side and also one containing several players returning from injury.

ULSTER: L Ludik; H Speight, W Addison, S McCloskey, R Baloucoune; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring (capt), M Moore; I Nagle, K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: R Best, K McCall, R Kane, C Ross, N Timoney, D Shanahan, J McPhillips, J Hume.

MUNSTER: M Haley; D Sweetnam, S Arnold, J Taute (capt), A Wootton; JJ Hanrahan, A Mathewson; J Loughman, K O’Byrne, S Archer; J Kleyn, D O’Shea; F Wycherley, C Oliver, A Botha.

Replacements: M Sherry, D Kilcoyne, C Parker, G Coombes, T O’Donnell, N Cronin, B Johnston, S Daly.

Referee: S Gallagher (IRFU).

Verdict: Ulster to win.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.