Anscombe relying on Ulster's big guns
Right on cue, Ulster’s headline acts are back to face Northampton Saints in Friday night’s Heineken Cup set-to at Franklin’s Gardens.
With the exception of Stephen Ferris, whose ankle injury will sideline him for at least another week, all of the front-liners were in the 27-strong panel confirmed by coach Mark Anscombe.
There were no fresh injury concerns following Sunday evening’s hard-earned 19-12 RaboDirect PRO12 win against Scarlets in Llanelli.
In addition, Ruan Pienaar and Chris Henry are ready to go again following a week off in the wake of their autumn international involvement with South Africa and Ireland respectively.
Paddy Wallace and Jared Payne were treated to well-earned time off at the weekend, too, and having recharged their batteries their inclusion in the extended squad means it’s all systems go for Friday night’s encounter.
Although Anscombe will not reveal his 15 starters and eight replacements until noon tomorrow they have been informed of the line-up. The coach admitted there had been a few hard calls — and a couple of others he found it much easier to make.
“What we talk about during the year is the fact that if you perform you force our hand. If you don’t, you also make it easy for us,” he said.
“Some of our performances maybe have made that decision easier for us, but in some cases there were some tough decisions that had to be made.
“From a coaching point of view, that’s what you want. If you’re to survive you’ve got to have good internal competition for places right through because this is a long big season and you won’t survive on 15 or 20 players.”
With performances in the past three PRO12 matches being a cause for concern, Anscombe pointed to some plausible explanations and appeared confident in his players’ ability to rise to Friday night’s fresh challenge.
“There’s the change of personnel — we’d a lot of guys out and then we had a good few come back, so it (Sunday’s match against Scarlets) was the first time they’d played together for a month,” he reasoned.
“It’s just about gelling and getting combinations going.
“So look, it’s not a panic; we have survived and we’re unbeaten although we’ve had 40-odd guys play for us this year.”
Agreeing that Ulster need to crank the engine up a gear, Anscombe continued: “We’re realistic; it’s about getting our performances up to a level that get us the right results.”