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Rugby: Cave, Olding and Gilroy back to strengthen Doak's hand

By Michael Sadlier

So, back to business then after the break and the next segment of Ulster's season - involving 10 games in all before the next downtime - gets under way with PRO12 leaders the Ospreys providing the opposition for tonight's clash at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm and live on BBC NI).

And with the Welsh region having won all their seven games up to now there is no better time for Neil Doak's third-placed squad to add another notable PRO12 scalp to their collection in the wake of having also undone Glasgow Warriors last month when they came to Belfast. And, in the scheme of things, it's a game they know they really must win.

The prospects of managing a fifth straight home win this season in the league are looking pretty favourable too, as Doak has had Darren Cave, Stuart Olding and Craig Gilroy all released back from Ireland camp to take their places in the Ulster starting line-up with the only change from their last outing against the Dragons - also played at home and won 23-6 - seeing Gilroy coming in on the left wing for Peter Nelson, who is now benched.

Added to that is the fact that the Ospreys have 10 players away with Wales and a fairly frightening looking injury list to go along with it so, arguably, there could hardly be a better time to have them visit.

But, even so, there are some niggling concerns. First of all, Cave and Gilroy played a Test match on Sunday and, even though it was Georgia, the contest was nevertheless a fairly full-on physical encounter which is bound to have taken a toll.

Two games in five days is a big ask and, from Ulster's point of view, the hope is that they will still have plenty in the tank to give to the cause.

Olding, admittedly, only had a cameo role off the bench, and scored his first international try, and should be hopefully that bit fresher.

Indeed, if he can produce something similar to his outing against the Dragons, where he scored twice and played with great authority, then Ulster can certainly make the desired impact in their attacking plays.

There might also be a few concerns that the Ospreys aren't just as weak as they are making out while there will be plenty of scrutiny on the home side's back row with the inexperienced flankers Clive Ross and Sean Reidy getting another game after the Dragons victory for what is sure to be a step-up from the last time.

Mind you, there is plenty of experience elsewhere in the pack with Franco van der Merwe, Lewis Stevenson and skipper Roger Wilson all on board again, while Nick Williams is poised from the bench and Alan O'Connor returns after suspension.

The front row of Callum Black, Rob Herring and Wiehahn Herbst should be looking to do some disruptive work at scrummage time.

As long as the lineouts also go well and Ulster get the nudge at the collisions and breakdown, then Paddy Jackson should be able to game-manage this one effectively and launch the hard-running Stuart McCloskey outside him to do damage.

And if width can be put on the ball, Gilroy is sure to be itching to get a chance to run after not really being afforded much opportunity on Sunday in Dublin.

As for defensive strengths, this could be interesting as Ulster have the soundest in the league (six tries conceded) with their nearest challengers actually being tonight's opponents with only seven tries coughed up.

It's not exactly been the best of weeks with official word coming out about Chris Henry's condition, he is thankfully well but further tests are required, and then Jared Payne's foot injury ruling him out of winning a second Ireland cap tomorrow, but this Ulster side should still have the wherewithal to end it on the right note.

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