David Pollock was last night told to “just be himself” when he makes his debut as Ulster captain in the friendly against Portugal at Ravenhill on Thursday night.
Pollock, who has long been ear-marked as a future captain of his province, will deputise for Rory Best, who will today be named in the Ireland 22 to face New Zealand at Croke Park on Saturday.
Former Royal School Dungannon star Pollock already has a great track record as a leader, having captained the Ireland Under-20 side to an unprecedented Grand Slam and Six Nations Championship double, as well as captaining both the Ireland Under-19 and Under-21 sides that participated in the respective IRB Rugby World Championships.
“He’s a leader every time he plays and now is the chance for him to do it in an official capacity and not lose what he brings to a game anyway,” said Ulster assistant coach Steve Williams.
“The trick for him is just to be himself. He is a natural leader and the way he plays he is always visible. We hope the lads will follow him and if they have any sense they will listen to him as well.”
With Matt Williams currently on leave in Australia, his namesake will take charge on Thursday and he has named a strong line-up, keeping eight of the side that defeated Munster.
In the pack, Bryan Young and Neil Hanna make their first appearances since the pre-season friendlies, while Thomas Anderson comes in to the back row in place of Stephen Ferris for his first senior start. Matt McCullough returns at lock with Ryan Caldwell down with Ireland.
The highly-promising Ian Whitten comes into the midfield in place of Paddy Wallace while Mark McCrea deputises for Andrew Trimble. Ian Humphreys, having starred against Munster, wins a starting place.
Timoci Nagusa, the two-try hero against Munster, keeps his place on the right wing with Bryn Cunningham at full-back.
There are 10 replacements named for the fixture with Ulster Academy members Chris Cochrane and James Sandford included alongside veterans Kieron Dawson and Justin Fitzpatrick.
“We won't be underestimating this side. They are an international side and showed plenty of fight against Connacht at the weekend,” Williams added.
“This is a good chance for us to try and build on the Munster victory and also give some of our younger players a chance to show us what they can do.”
Carlo Del Fava, who is with the Italian squad and Rob Dewey, who has been called up for Scotland A, were not available while Scotland wing Simon Danielli is expected to make his long-await
ed return from a pre-season ankle injury when Ulster A take on Cardiff A in the Principality on Friday week.
Ulster: B Cunningham; T Nagusa, D Cave, I Whitten, M McCrea; I Humphreys, C Willis; B Young, N Hanna, BJ Botha, M McCullough, E O'Donoghue, T Anderson, D Pollock (capt), R Diack.
Replacements: N Brady, J Fitzpatrick, D Fitzpatrick, K Dawson, I Boss, N O'Connor, P Steinmetz, C Henry, J Sandford, C Cochrane