Belfast Telegraph

Selection shows reputations count for nothing

By Michael Sadlier

This selection maybe isn't quite what was expected for the first-up venture into Europe but, from here on in, this may well be Les Kiss's trademark.

It would seem that reputations count for little with no sign of Stuart McCloskey or Roger Wilson - the former's yellow card in Newport may have done for him - while Wiehahn Herbst, Callum Black and the returning Louis Ludik are all benched.

Paul Marshall is also absent - Dave Shanahan providing cover for Ruan Pienaar's first start - but it is believed this is due to his wife being about to give birth to their second child.

Theoretically, selecting the front five for this first meeting with struggling Oyonnax would have been about deploying experience, but Kiss has gone left-field for his first European call. He has rewarded Kyle McCall for his efforts against the Dragons with only his second ever start and has done so in a key game offering Ulster their best shot at an essential win on the road.

And, on the other side of the scrum, Ricky Lutton gets his first start since last May's PRO12 play-off defeat at Glasgow while Herbst's involvement later on is probably preferable with the formidable Soane Tonga'uiha on Oyannax's much more high profile bench.

So, while only skipper Rory Best's return - one of seven personnel changes from Sunday's win at the Dragons - proved obvious for Ulster's front row there is another surprise with Luke Marshall straight back into the side after not having played since the beginning of October due to his thumb injury.

With McCloskey having looked a nailed-on selection, Kiss has made a big call with Marshall though this might be down to his tactical kicking ability and defensive work-rate. The return of Nick Williams from a hamstring niggle means Ulster at least have one dynamic ball-carrier while Robbie Diack's lineout ability has edged out Wilson's grafting.

Having Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy starting means Ulster may well give the ball width on the artificial surface, and against a side who have conceded more tries than any other in the Top 14 - though you would expect the more direct lineout maul to also be a major weapon.

Issues may arise through operating at around 550 metres above sea level, if Ulster overcook their tactical kicking, while, as ever, their discipline will be a concern.

Defensively, Kiss will want Ulster as watertight as they were at the Dragons, with Chris Henry and Best producing multiple poaches, and whoever takes the shots at goal - Paddy Jackson or Pienaar - just have to be on the money.

Ulster have the ability to add Oyonnax - who dramatically parted company with coach Olivier Azam on Thursday - to the notable European away scalps of Castres and Montpellier, but must beware of a backlash from the misfiring home side.

Even so, they will rarely have a better shot at a dream start.

Belfast Telegraph


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