Rory Best on the bench for Ulster as Cardiff come calling
Visitors travel without current starting Wales outhalf Gareth Anscombe
Ulster’s Rob Herring: he will play his 150th Ulster game at hooker. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Pro14, Ulster v Cardiff Blues, Saturday December 1st, Ravenhill (kick-off 3.0pm, live on eirSport 2)
Next Friday Dan McFarland brings Ulster to Llanelli. Parc y Scarlets no less. Hence the team on show in Belfast this Saturday. To avoid annihilation they must be primed and ready.
This is close to McFarland’s starting European XV, but Rory Best is still to fully return – the Ireland captain makes the bench but these next few months are vital to him making Japan 2019 – and Jacob Stockdale is also on the leash.
In the meantime Rob Herring plays his 150th Ulster game at hooker, while Louis Ludik keeps No 11 warm (before a probable switch to the reserves come Champions Cup).
It feels like Ulster’s starting backrow, with Kiwi Sean Reidy joining Springbok Marcell Coetzee and Ireland’s Mr Versatile Jordi Murphy.
Another summer arrival, Marty Moore, needs to fill-in his World Cup applications. Time is running away from the one-time rising tighthead.
Not so John Cooney, who can maintain current form and glide into Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations plans now that Kieran Marmion is injured.
Elsewhere, Ulster’s lack of depth is evident even if the fast-tracking of Michael Lowry and James Hume may reap long-term dividends.
Cardiff travel without current starting Wales outhalf Gareth Anscombe (foot), the son of former Ulster coach Mark Anscombe, but Samu Manoa makes his debut at blindside following a summer switch from Toulon. Manoa came off the USA bench during Ireland’s victory last weekend.
“This week will be important once again, and then we can park the Pro14 before we start again, back into Europe,” said Cardiff coach John Mulvihill. “We have a strong leadership group still involved in the programme but our on-field leadership needs to step up this week. Ulster will give us a lot of opportunities, so we need to make sure we’re in the right positions to take them.”
ULSTER: M Lowry; H Speight; J Hume, S McCloskey, L Ludik; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor (capt), K Treadwell; S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee. Replacements: R Best, E O’Sullivan, R Kane, I Nagle, N Timoney, D Shanahan, J McPhillips, J Stockdale.
CARDIFF BLUES: M Morgan; A Summerhill, H Millard, R Lee-Lo, J Harries; J Evans, L Williams (capt); R Gill, K Dacey, S Andrews, S Davies, J Turnbull, S Manoa, O Robinson, N Williams. Replacements: L Belcher, R Carré, D Lewis, G Earle, J Down, T Williams, S Shingler, G Smith.
Referee: S Berry (South Africa).
Verdict: Ulster win.