Ulster starting on wing and a prayer
Coach Brian McLaughlin is hoping some of his young wingers can put a marker down as Ulster kick off the new season with a friendly against Bath on Friday night at Ravenhill.
Ireland's Andrew Trimble and Scotland's Simon Danielli are both recovering from surgery and are unlikely to see any action until October, but McLaughlin believes this pre-season programme against three English sides is the perfect stage for players to step up to the plate.
“We're disappointed not to have Simon and Andrew and we're also disappointed that Bryn Cunningham hasn't made it back yet,” he said.
“But if you look at the Ravens games last year and you saw Tommy Seymour finishing off tries — we have to get him on the pitch and give him his chance.
“Mark McCrea had an awful year with injury last season, but he's back and has had a good pre-season, so let’s give him an opportunity.
“We have nothing to lose by playing these guys and then further on down the line Simon and Andrew will hopefully have to come back and fight for their shirt.
“That's where we want to be and that is the depth of the squad we want to have.
“The more we can push from the bottom up, the better we're going to be and the tougher it's going to be for guys to hold onto their places.
“We need competition to make them perform better and more consistently on the pitch.”
Ulster are also missing Rory Best, Stephen Ferris of the Irish internationals that went on the summer tour, but instead of a that being a hindrance McLaughlin is hoping to turn it to his advantage.
“If you look at the make up of the the three games, we've a Friday, a Saturday and then a Thursday so if we’re not careful we could have the team we want for the Ospreys playing much too early on,” he said.
“It's going to be no different to what we did last year with the middle game against Viadana.
“We have got to give the young guys their head and give them the opportunity and a chance to show exactly what they can do because if we don't further down the line we could be throwing them into the lion's den at Biarritz.
“It's important that we use these games to get those players to where we need them to be, and if they are not where we need them to be then big questions will have been answered.”
After Bath, Ulster travel to London Harlequins before concluding the sparring with Leeds at home and the coach isn't overly worried about the results.
He simply wants the team ready for the Magners League kick-off and the visit of the Ospreys.
“We have got three tough fixtures and we could lose all three but as long as we get to where we want to be on the pitch against the Ospreys, but I don't think that is going to happen,” he said.
“I think the guys are keen to get out there and perform.”