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Ulster coach Neil Doak can reap benefit of resting his star names in PRO12 clash with Glasgow

By Michael Sadlier

Published 18/05/2015

Ground force: Ulster’s Iain Henderson proves a handful for Glasgow at Scotstoun
Ground force: Ulster’s Iain Henderson proves a handful for Glasgow at Scotstoun

It made abundant sense for Ulster to approach last Saturday's game with an eye on the PRO12 semi-finals and it looks as if things have worked out reasonably well.

A return game against Glasgow with a fully loaded Ulster side - or as close to it as possible - is not as daunting a task as it might seem. Though going back to Scotstoun is still a very formidable challenge, Ulster should have certain elements of surprise in their favour.

Glasgow had to throw the kitchen sink at this one, while Ulster kept their powder dry. And if Neil Doak's side can play anything like the way they attacked Munster - and make some of those killer passes stick - then they have a real opportunity to become the first side to win a PRO12 play-off away from home and then progress to their primary target of the Kingspan final.

It could even work out wonderfully for the PRO12's organisers should the final become an all-Ireland affair by Ulster managing to take Glasgow's scalp at the second time of asking and Munster disposing of the Ospreys at Thomond Park. What a prospect that is.

But enough dreaming. Hopefully, Doak can call up his cavalry for Friday to lead the charge towards getting there on May 30. Only one side now stands between them managing it.

It is hoped that Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Jared Payne, Callum Black, Dan Tuohy and, hopefully, Wiehahn Herbst - though the latter is doubtful - will all have recovered from their various knocks and be primed and, all importantly, feeling fresh and ready to throw everything at the Warriors, who were made to graft hard for their bonus-point win last Saturday.

But, of course, it didn't all go according to plan. The sight of Franco van der Merwe on crutches after departing the action through his early injury - believed to be his ankle - could impair Ulster's challenge.

Having played in all but one of Ulster's 28 games this season, to see Van der Merwe breaking down now with the finishing line in sight is both hugely unfortunate and probably not far off inevitable after the South African had put in so much game-time.

Still, a close to full strength Ulster should be able to take it to Glasgow in what will be a fevered atmosphere in a much more consistently game-breaking way than their counterparts last Saturday.

Yes, 12 changes to the starting side certainly raised eyebrows, but what else could Doak do? Coming away with a bonus-point win from Scotstoun was never an outcome worth going all-out to chase or one which justified risking those frontline players he had who weren't nursing knocks.

Yes, there was a strong cadre of star men on the bench, but that was a contingency plan and nothing more. And what have Ulster learned from last Saturday? Well, probably a lot more than Gregor Townsend was able to bank from the experience.

Let's just hope the conditions are nothing like those from last weekend. Now that really would spoil things for what should be a cracking semi-final. Friday can't come soon enough.

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