Magners League: Trimble’s return a boost for Ulster
Paddy Wallace is out, but Rory Best and Stephen Ferris are back in the squad along with fellow-Irish international Andrew Trimble whose return following his finger injury comes a month ahead of schedule.
With three coming back and one resting, Brian McLaughlin’s 27-man Ulster panel for Friday night's match against Edinburgh at Ravenhill is a clear case of overall gain.
With the Tri-Nations now over, Springbok prop BJ Botha is in the frame, too — again earlier than expected — though in this instance it’s a case of injury elsewhere having hastened his return.
Botha has been drafted in following the calf injury tighthead Declan Fitzpatrick suffered in the opening minutes of Saturday night’s win against Aironi in Viadana.
“BJ’s back and trained yesterday and today with us on the pitch,” McLaughlin confirmed.
Botha is expected to play some part; Best and Ferris certainly will. Out wide, Paul Emerick, the US Eagles player brought into the squad on a three-month contract when it appeared Trimble would be absent until mid-October, is included in the 27 for the first time and could be for his Ulster debut if he survives Thursday’s lunch-time cull.
Meanwhile scrum-half Paul Marshall is expected to retain the number nine jersey, although Ian Porter — who replaced him on the hour against Aironi — did not do his cause any harm at all in the course of his 20 minute spell.
Porter’s try-saving tackle on the Italians’ big No 8, Nick Williams, was crucial in enabling Ulster to come home with four more Magners League points bagged.
Both players know the arrival of South African star Ruan Pienaar, who finally arrived in Belfast yesterday, means they are likely to be scrapping it out the back-up role.
My belief is that Marshall will get the nod once again this weekend and if so, he will partner fly-half Niall O’Connor who has kicked 17 points in each of Ulster’s two Magners League victories to date. Ian Humphreys is included in the panel from which the side to face Edinburgh will be selected, though that is likely to be in the role of understudy in view of McLaughlin’s explanation.
“We’re happy with Niall’s performances so far, but obviously with Paddy going out of the squad we have to have another 10 in there so Ian comes back into contention,” the coach said.
“Edinburgh pose a different threat this week. They’re a different rugby playing side to the two we’ve faced already,” he continued.
“Aironi and Ospreys are very, very direct and very physical.
“Edinburgh are very physical around the breakdown area, no doubt about that, so you have to be on your mettle in there.
“If you show any weakness or any lack of trust in the guy beside you it can prove devastating for you,” he warned.
Stressing the need for Ulster to be disciplined, McLaughlin added: “You’ve always got to be aware of the threat posed by Paterson (Chris).
“He has been a thorn in the side of many teams for years. He’s very accurate so you just can’t afford in and around that box from the try-line to the 10-metre line to give away penalties because to do that is to give them three points.”
Edinburgh will come to Belfast having lost in Cardiff and at home to Munster in their opening two matches.
And although they beat Ulster 16-13 a year ago on their last Magners League visit to Ravenhill and then sneaked a Murrayfield victory a month later when the sides met in the Heineken Cup, Ulster have since beaten them twice.
In mid-January McLaughlin’s men won their Heineken Cup rematch in Belfast where it finished 21-13, followed in late April by a five-try Magners League romp in the Scottish capital.