Belfast Telegraph

All change as Mac recalls rested stars for Ravenhill clash

By Michael Sadlier

With a lot of talk this week being about scheduling, player availability and the future changes to player eligibility, the fact that Ulster have a hugely significant PRO12 League game ahead of them tonight has almost crept under the radar.

But it's here now and at a packed out Ravenhill, Ulster really have to manufacture a winning result when they meet an under-powered looking Munster this evening (kick-off 7.05 and live on BBC2).

As expected, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made 15 changes to the largely inexperienced side turned over by Leinster on Boxing Day with the scheduling of two league games in four days proving less than pleasing to the Ulster management.

And, as was always known and seems to be ever the case at this time of year, Ulster's currently fit Ireland contingent - Stephen Ferris, Rory Best, Andrew Trimble and Tom Court - are missing due to the national side's training camp which has also had an impact on reigning League champions Munster who are without six internationals including Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara.

The hope for Ulster now is that the senior players, who were rested for Monday's game, will be led onto the pitch tonight by Johann Muller in both a refreshed and determined state of mind to deliver a must-win performance to keep eighth-placed Ulster in touch with the table's play-off territory.

With Munster also having to stomach the same scheduling as Ulster, their coach Tony McGahan has also rung the changes with only three of the starting side which saw off Connacht being retained in what appears to be a largely shadow side from the southern province which also has no place - no doubt to Ulster's relief - for former Ravenhill favourite and destructive prop BJ Botha

Not that Ulster will feel in any way complacent. After all they have been here before and on Munster's last visit to Ravenhill - back in October 2010 - a less than full strength side snatched a win with a late try from a certain Ivan Dineen, a club player who was only on a training contract.

And if ever Ulster needed a motivational spur going into tonight's key clash then Boxing Day's brave showing by the side that battled hard with Leinster will do nicely for starters.

All the talk around the camp this week has been about how well the inexperienced side led by Nigel Brady coped with Leinster before folding in the last 20 minutes and how vital it now is for the senior side to back this up by now seeing off Munster.

Of course the need for a win has also been brought into sharper focus by the fact that Ulster cannot really afford to lose many more League games if they are to retain realistic hopes of challenging for the play-offs.

Though the side is entirely altered from the Leinster game, there are five changes from the side that saw off Aironi on December 17 with Stefan Terblanche coming in for Trimble, Andi Kyriacou replacing Best and Paddy McCallister being brought in for Court.

Elsewhere, Ian Whitten joins Darren Cave in midfield as Nevin Spence is out injured while Willie Faloon gets a rare start and comes in for Ferris in a realigned back row which, on paper at least, sees Chris Henry named at number eight while Pedrie Wannenburg shifts to the blindside flank.

Ulster skipper Muller has made it abundantly clear that Munster will not be taken lightly.

"Munster's strength is their consistency," Muller stated.

They are a team that never says die. Consistency is a key for them, and as a squad it's something we can learn from."

Despite all the respect for the opposition, tonight should bring the right result for Ulster at the end of what has been a difficult week.

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