RaboDirect Pro12: Irish stars’ return a boost for Ulster
After being minus his Irish internationals for the festive season inter-pro dates with Leinster and Munster, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin was spoilt for choice this week.
With available-again Andrew Trimble, Stephen Ferris, Tom Court and Rory Best all returning to the fold and fit-again Paddy Wallace ready to resume after a seven-week absence owing to a thumb tendon injury which required surgery, McLaughlin has enjoyed having his big-name players back in the fold.
“Training has been excellent all week,” he enthused. “It’s been great having the internationals back, including Paddy.
“It really gives us a boost coming into such important games and they will bring a bit extra to the team. They’re itching to get involved again and we are looking forward to having them back in.”
Tellingly, his Edinburgh counterpart, former Irish international scrum-half, Michael Bradley, was no less enthusiastic.
“Like us, Ulster have so far enjoyed a successful Heineken Cup campaign but have not been as convincing in the RaboDirect PRO12, though they clearly took a big step towards addressing that last weekend against Munster,” the former Connacht coach said.
“We have shown good form in front of our home support, winning six of our last seven at Murrayfield. However Ulster have lost just one in their last five so they will arrive with a lot of confidence, something which we will need to tackle early on.
“This is a huge match for us as a big month for the club continues and, while we’ve acknowledged the long-term importance of our January fixtures, the players and coaches are focused fully on the size of the job at hand.
“Success (against Ulster) would clearly give us the winning momentum we desire going into the Heineken Cup, though that itself is not the objective.
“First and foremost this is about winning in the RaboDirect PRO12.”
The front row battle promises to be particularly tasty with Irish pair Court and Best being joined by former All Black John Afoa for the head-to-head against Scottish international trio Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Geoff Cross, three of the nine Edinburgh players named yesterday in Andy Robinson’s 36-man Scotland squad for the 2012 RBS Six Nations.
So, too, was Ulster’s Simon Danielli incidentally, though he is not in action on this occasion.
But another two of Edinburgh’s nine Scottish squad members — scrum-half and captain Greig Laidlaw and outside-centre Nick De Luca — do start and with Ulster also fielding their big guns it is obvious that both coaches are taking this one very seriously.