Ulster, in preparation for tomorrow night’s Magners League clash with Edinburgh at Murrayfield, have included all five of their players named in Ireland’s 34-man panel for the Autumn International Series.
The names Rory Best, Tom Court, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace were among the 29 announced by coach Brian McLaughlin, who will trim that group to 15 starters and seven replacements at lunchtime today.
There may well be some element of bluff, with McLaughlin admitting that in naming a squad of 29 “I’m trying to keep my powder dry”.
Tellingly he added: “I think when we announce the team it will become obvious (what our thinking is).
“I don’t want to pre-empt anything, but there will be a few little things that we’ll have to look at in relation to the management programme.”
If the inclusion of the Irish camp-bound five is merely a deployment of decoys, today’s team announcement will make very interesting reading.
Certainly with Jamie Smith and Darren Cave still sidelined by the problems which saw them miss Sunday’s Heineken Cup defeat by Biarritz at Parc des Sports Aguliera where Simon Danielli also suffered a shoulder injury which now is thought likely to keep him out for two-three weeks, Ulster will field a very young back line.
Much will depend on the availability of Paddy Wallace and, if he is able to play, where he will line out.
He partnered Ian Whitten in midfield against Biarritz, but if Ulster are permitted to use him tomorrow night the possibility of him being chosen at outside-half cannot be wholly discounted, even though current incumbent Ian Humphreys and the man from whom he took over, Niall O’Connor, are available.
O’Connor scored 14 of the hosts’ points, courtesy of three penalties, a drop goal and a conversion, when Ulster beat Edinburgh 29-21 at Ravenhill on September 17.
But then — at the behest of the IRFU who were keen to see Wallace in that role — O’Connor was displaced for the match against Connacht a week later.
He regained his place against Glasgow, only to see literal injury being added to earlier insult when he injured an ankle on a night on which he lined out alongside debutant scrum-half, Ruan Pienaar — who took over as Ulster’s place-kicker.
The fly-half has not played since, his number 10 shirt having been worn by Humphreys in the two Heineken Cup matches which followed.
In the absence of Smith and Danielli, Adam D’Arcy and David McIlwaine — who finished at full-back and left wing respectively against Biarritz — are likely to be retained in those positions.
Cave’s absence from midfield finds Tommy Seymour, Mark McCrea, Jonny Shiels and Nevin Spence vying for inclusion.
“We’re hoping that Jamie and Darren will come back into the equation next weekend (when Ulster host Munster) but we’re just not 100 per cent sure,” McLaughlin admitted.
“It’s a very tight week because it’s a very short turnover — we played on Sunday and we’re playing again on Friday.
“It’s a big week for us; mentally we’ve got to be bang on come Friday night and that is something we have been emphasising.”
Skipper Best described Murrayfield as “a very, very difficult place to go” and Edinburgh as “a very dangerous team”.
“We’ve done alright there without being fantastic. We’d a good win there last year when our backs were against the wall so we have no fear going there,” he said.
“But at the same time we have to respect Edinburgh for what they are and that’s a very good rugby team.”