RaboDirect Pro12: Returning trio geared up to start for Ulster
Ulster hope to have back line trio Ian Humphreys, Jared Payne and Darren Cave in their starting line-up for Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill (7.05pm).
Due to a hamstring injury Cave has missed each of the past two outings — away to Ospreys and NG Dragons — both of which ended in defeat.
Humphreys (shoulder) and Payne (dead leg) also sat out last Friday night’s match at Rodney Parade where it finished 22-9 to the Dragons.
All three were badly missed in Newport where Ulster struggled.
But the news on their progress at this stage is good. Humphreys and Cave trained on Monday and again yesterday, with Payne able to join them on the second day.
Coach Brian McLaughlin has included all three in his provisional squad of 32.
Following victories over Glasgow, Aironi and Cardiff, defeats in each of their back-to-back trips to Wales saw Ulster lose ground and momentum in the Pro12 race.
Currently they lie fifth of the 12 runners.
But Friday night provides McLaughlin’s side with a big opportunity to return to winning ways.
Two factors weigh heavily in their favour. Firstly, they have not lost a league game at Ravenhill in their last nine outings, a run stretching all the way back to December 27. Secondly, never — in any competition — have they been beaten by Italian opponents.
McLaughlin was typically guarded when reminded of that fact, however, pointing out that Treviso come to Belfast on the back of victories in each of their past two matches.
Glasgow and Scarlets were put to the sword at Firhill and Stadio Monigo, Treviso winning 15-13 and 20-10 respectively.
As a result, Treviso are up to eighth in the table, two points behind Ulster.
McLaughlin said: “We started the season exceptionally well and we were very pleased with our first three wins.
“So we went to Ospreys full of confidence. And we also felt we could get something out of the Dragons game.
“They were two disappointing losses, but it’s just two losses. Two poor displays don’t make us a bad team.
“We know we’re a very good team and we’ll be looking to do our damnedest to get back into that top four on Friday night.
“I’m not making excuses but we have people away (at the World Cup) and out through injuries, so we’re a little bit under strength.
“Hopefully this Friday night we should have as close to our full complement — without our World Cup players — as possible.”