The most significant name absent from Matt Williams’s 22-man squad to face Llanelli at Ravenhill on Friday is Ian Humphreys, the only one of the seven new signings not to make the cut for the Magners League opener.
Humphreys started Ulster’s final pre-season friendly – the defeat to Worcester Warriors last Friday – but the 26-year-old has been overlooked in what Williams described as a “horses for courses selection” with Paddy Wallace set to start at out-half and Niall O’Connor providing cover on the bench.
The forecast is for wet conditions on Friday night so the opportunity for free-flowing attacking football, which Humphreys specialises in, are likely to be limited.
The only other big name to miss out was expected, with Stephen Ferris requiring another two to three weeks to shake off a back injury.
All of Williams’ other signings, forwards BJ Botha, Ed |O’Donoghue and Robbie Diack and backs Timosci Nagusa, Clinton Schifcofske and Cillian Willis, are included and all but Willis are expected to start in a much changed line-up from the side that finished last season with the hugely disappointing defeat to Cardiff.
While Botha may be facing a crash-course to immerse himself in the squad having only just arrived at the start of the week, he has already impressed enough to warrant a place in the starting line-up.
“We had an opposed session yesterday and I think everyone knew he had arrived,” said Williams, who will announce his starting XV tomorrow.
“He is a good leader and has set good standards and has been much, much more effective at training than we had hoped.
“He has been picking things up quickly and that is what you want from your senior overseas international coming in.
“It is an indication of the calibre of the man.”
While Darren Cave’s sparkling displays have made it impossible to leave him out of the backline in which he could find himself partnering Rob Dewey in the midfield to give Ulster a gain-line busting direct game as well as formidable defensive unit.
That would allow Williams to move Andrew Trimble out onto the wing, with Schifcofske likely to make his competitive debut at full-back and Nagusa on the right wing.
ULSTER SQUAD: (Forwards) Justin Fitzpatrick; Nigel Brady; Tom Court; Rory Best; Brendan Botha; Carlo Del Fava; Ed O'Donoghue; Ryan Caldwell; David Pollock; Matt McCullough; Kieron Dawson; Robbie Diack.
(Backs): Isaac Boss; Paddy Wallace; Timoci Nagusa; Rob Dewey; Darren Cave; Andrew Trimble; Clinton Schisfoske; Cillian Willis; Niall O'Connor; Bryn Cunningham.