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Tuohy named captain as Anscombe rests 11 players ahead of semi-final

By Niall Crozier

With a dozen changes to the side which lined out against Leinster eight days ago, Ulster could not have made it more obvious they are holding back their front-line troops in readiness for next weekend's RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final.

Rested are skipper Johann Muller, Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Ricky Andrew, while Tom Court is suspended, following his dismissal against Leinster. In come captain-for-the-night Dan Tuohy, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Sean Doyle, Michael Heaney, James McKinney, Stuart McCloskey, Michael Allen, David McIlwaine, Rory Scholes and Craig Gilroy, with Callum Black taking over from Court on the loose-head side of the front row.

Captain Tuohy revealed: "Mark Anscombe pulled me to one side on Monday and said I was going to captain the team. I was delighted. I am just going to concentrate on my own game, get the lads behind me and hopefully we can put in a decent performance."

Munster have made wholesale changes as well, 10 in total. But with a chance – albeit long odds – of booking a home semi-final in the unlikely event of Glasgow slipping up at home to Zebre, Rob Penney has named a formidable-looking back line.

While Munster are hoping they can leapfrog Glasgow to finish second, Ulster will be fourth regardless of tonight's outcome. So their objective is to reinstate those dozen big name players next week when they also hope to have Ruan Pienaar and Rory Best on board.

Defence coach Jonny Bell is 'hopeful' both will be available for the semi-final – probably against Leinster at the RDS.

Scrum-half Pienaar aggravated a shoulder injury in the opening minutes of the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens at Ravenhill on April 5. Hooker Best suffered a bad ankle sprain in the same match.

At the time the prognosis was that Pienaar would be out for six weeks and Best would be sidelined for six to eight weeks.

"At the start of every week we meet the medical staff and they give us a run-down of the fitness of certain players so it would be fantastic for us if we had Ruan and Rory for the semi-final," he said.

"We're going to wait and see how they progress over the next couple of days.

"I'd be really excited and hopeful that they will be available, but they've had significant injuries so it's just a case of whether they have confidence and they feel they're ready for it.

"But they're two motivated men and they want to be playing in a semi-final against Leinster, so if they are anywhere near fit they'll be on the pitch."

Bell was less optimistic about 2011 World Cup-winning New Zealander John Afoa, however. The former All Black, who is on his way to Gloucester at the end of the season, suffered a disc injury against Saracens and, like Best and Pienaar, has not played since.

"Obviously a back injury is a difficult one for a prop, so there's maybe a little more doubt as to his availability," Bell said. "But a week can be a long time and, given a fair wind, who knows?"

Ulster have something of a crisis at prop at the moment, for in addition to first-choice pair Court and Afoa they are without Declan Fitzpatrick (heart) and Ricky Lutton (toe) on the tight-head side.

Last week against Leinster the number three jersey was filled by Andy Warwick, whose retention tonight is a telling endorsement of his performance against Cian Healy.

At the end of a first season beset by injury, Bronson Ross is Warwick's understudy having finally recovered after neck surgery.

Belfast Telegraph

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