Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

RaboDirect Pro12: McLaughlin looks for right balance for Connacht

Brian McLaughlin

Ulster will rest a number of the Heineken Cup quarter-final heroes of Thomond Park for Saturday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 date with Connacht in Galway (5.15).

For, although coach Brian McLaughlin’s 37-man provisional squad includes all 15 of those who started and finished against Munster in Limerick on Sunday, his plan is to deploy as many back-up players as he deems prudent.

Tight-head John Afoa is included in the 37, although he faces a hearing this afternoon in Dublin after being cited for a supposedly dangerous tackle on Munster full-back Felix Jones in last weekend’s epic victory.

And if the verdict goes against Afoa and he is banned, Ulster do have decent cover, something McLaughlin was keen to highlight.

“We have depth in the front row and at the minute we’re fairly injury-free there. Declan (Fitzpatrick) is definitely an option, as is Adam Macklin. Tom Court at tight-head is also an option for us.

“We just have to wait and see what we feel is the best option for us,” he said.

Whoever wears the number three jersey will pack down alongside Saturday’s captain, hooker Nigel Brady who, in Johann Muller’s absence, will lead a side in which a number of his fellow-replacements last weekend are expected to start. Certainly, Willie Faloon and Adam D’Arcy will feature when the 15 starters are named at lunch-time tomorrow.

At this critical stage of the campaign it has become a balancing act for McLaughlin, who is bidding for silverware on two fronts, the European Cup and the PRO12 — in that order.

To have any chance of success in the latter he has to steer his team to a top four finish.

But that objective must not be pursued to the detriment of Ulster’s Heineken Cup ambitions, hence the reason for naming a team strong enough to win in Galway without the imput of those front-line troopers in need of rest for what lies ahead in the wake of Sunday’s gruelling battle.

“Obviously there’s a huge squad named, but we’d a huge game at the weekend so there are a lot of tired bodies, physically and mentally,” McLaughlin said.

Explaining that Ulster will take their time “before deciding exactly what we’ll do this weekend”, McLaughlin said: “We’re waiting for a few guys to come through as the week goes on so it’s just very much a wait and see situation.”

Insisting that a place in the knock-out stages of the PRO12 remains a major ambition, undiluted by having reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup, he added: “That’s still very important to us and I think as far as that is concerned we just need to wait and see how the guys recover as the week progresses and then we’ll see how many of them will play and how many won’t play.

“We don’t want to give up on the PRO12, we want to keep fighting on two fronts for as long as we possibly can.”

His parting shot was: “We’ve got a really good squad and we’ve got great team spirit at the moment so we want to go as far as we can in both.”

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