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Doak can begin plotting the route for Ulster's success

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 02/09/2015

Planning: Neil Doak
Planning: Neil Doak

With Joe Schmidt's 31-man Ireland squad now finalised, Ulster's Neil Doak has a much firmer idea of the panel that will be available to him over the next two months.

While injuries to international players could yet create more upheaval over the coming weeks, the Ulster head coach should at least now know the strength of squad available to him for Friday's Pro12 opener against Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium and will expect the remaining talent to make a strong impression in the league's first run of fixtures.

Andrew Trimble's exclusion from the World Cup leaves Ulster with a potentially potent back-three at their disposal as the 58-times capped winger joins last season's top-scorer Craig Gilroy and fullback Louis Ludik.

Cave's somewhat surprising absence in the centre, where his organisational skills are key to the team's defence, will be felt but, with Jared Payne also on Ireland duty, it could mean Luke Marshall continues his comeback in the less familiar 13 jersey while youngster Sam Arnold also figures.

Without Iain Henderson and Chris Henry, the back-row looks a little threadbare but much will depend on the fitness of Roger Wilson, who turns 34 later this month, and Willie Faloon who returned to Ulster from Connacht this summer.

Even given skipper Rory Best's considerable presence around Kingspan, Rob Herring is an able deputy at hooker, and will also take over the captaincy, and perhaps the biggest miss will be Paddy Jackson.

With the fly-half offering cover for Johnny Sexton at the World Cup, Ulster's only recognised number 10s are Ian Humphreys, who has been struggling with a hamstring strain, and new signing Sam Windsor who remains untested at this level.

With Paul Marshall also standing in for Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half, the half-back pairing during the tournament should prove the key to how Ulster fare during the opening six-game block.

It promises to be an intriguing few weeks.

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