Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Andrew Trimble returns to starting line-up but Ruan Pienaar is kept in cold storage

No change: Paddy Jackson again has Michael Heaney as his partner
No change: Paddy Jackson again has Michael Heaney as his partner

With the exception of scrum-half Michael Heaney, the men Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has named in his back line for tonight's PRO12 meeting with Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park (6.30pm) are likely to be on duty next Saturday against Saracens.

South African maestro Ruan Pienaar is expected to have recovered from his still unspecified shoulder injury and able to resume when Ulster return to the Heineken Cup stage, leaving Anscombe to choose between Heaney and Paul Marshall in providing scrum-half cover from the bench.

For the second week in a row it is Heaney who, in Pienaar's absence, has been chosen to start tonight, with Marshall again named as his understudy.

The only change to the Ulster back line which faced Edinburgh at Murrayfield last weekend sees Andrew Trimble reinstated following the Six Nations. His inclusion on the left wing is at the expense of Craig Gilroy who drops to the bench. Other than that it is the same back line as started against Edinburgh.

Like Trimble, Chris Henry returns from international duty. Once again he packs down at seven.

For the second week in a row, Stephen Ferris starts at six. And with Roger Wilson enjoying richly deserved time-out, it's Nick Williams who wears eight tonight.

Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy are reunited as starting locks for the first time since Ulster's memorable Heineken Cup triumph over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on January 18.

In the interim, Tuohy performed magnificently for Ireland against Scotland before breaking his arm against Wales six days later. Having returned for a final-quarter run against Edinburgh at Murrayfield a week ago, he gets much-needed game-time tonight in readiness for next weekend's test.

And one row up, Tom Court will be making his 150th appearance for Ulster.

No-one will be happier for him than an Ulster and Ireland comrade-in-arms who isn't even playing in the Arms Park showdown.

Hooker Rory Best is delighted to be welcoming his long-time front row colleague to the centurion-and-a-half club, himself having reached the same milestone against Leicester in the final Pool 5 match.

Best – who like Wilson has been given the night off ahead of next week's cup clash – lauded the loose-head's development since enlisting for service at Ravenhill in the summer of 2006.

Court came late to rugby union and Best recalls a rookie who turned up knowing little about loose-head play.

"When Tom arrived he was a former shot-putter who could run the 100 metres quicker than most people in our squad. But after he'd run the 100 metres, he nearly needed to be resuscitated!" Best smiled.

"But he has learned over the years that no-one cares how fast a prop forward can run. What everyone wants to know is can you make it to that ruck in the first minute, in the 40th minute and in the 80th minute?

"Tom has learned that and the way he has come on from being a-not-great-rugby-player when he arrived to an Irish international, a Grand Slam winner and a British Lion is a massive credit to him.

"To get 150 caps for a club is a massive honour. Tom has been around a long, long time and 150 caps for Ulster plus 30-odd (32) for Ireland amount to a fantastic career."

Best's omission sees Court pack down with hooker Rob Herring and tight-head John Afoa.

And for the second week in a row, coach Mark Anscombe has opted for a six forwards, two backs split in naming his replacements.

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