Ulster bid to maintain early momentum in South Africa
Coach McFarland makes three changes in the pack for the trip to Southern Kings
Dan McFarland: his charges have begun the new season with wins over Scarlets and Edinburgh. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Southern Kings v Ulster, Nelson Mandela Bay stadium (Sunday, 1.15pm Irish time, live on EirSport, Premier Sports)
Ulster take an unbeaten start to the season on the road for the first time, Port Elizabeth the destination as they look to sustain momentum gleaned from narrow victories over the Scarlets (15-13) and Edinburgh (30-29) in Belfast.
Head coach Dan McFarland retains the backline en masse while there are three alterations to the pack, one in each row of the scrum. Tom O’Toole comes in at tighthead prop having recovered from the concussion he sustained against the Scarlets.
Despite being ruled out through injury and not being able to take part in the Under-20 World Cup last season, there is no doubting his quality, evident in the age-grade Six Nations and also in a white shirt. Alan O’Connor deputises for Iain Henderson in the second row, while Sean Reidy joins Marcell Coetzee and Nick Timoney in the back row.
McFarland will be hoping that he doesn’t have to rely quite so heavily on the boot of John Cooney, the scrumhalf’s place-kicking process and sangfroid in the dying embers of previous games helping his team to a couple of hard-fought victories.
Will Addison, who trained with Ireland in Australia for a week during the summer, has already offered evidence of his quality, the fullback breaking an Ulster and tournament record for the most carries in a match (28) in last week’s win over Edinburgh.
Craig Gilroy looks very sharp while Stuart McCloskey and Henry Speight should ensure positive gainlines. They key for Ulster will be providing a platform up front, especially in the absence of some senior figures.
The Kings have lost their opening two matches but by relatively modest margins in comparison to last year. They’ll be better but maybe not quite good enough to topple the visitors.
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)