With the Six Nations Championship now over, Ulster have been boosted by the return of five internationals for Friday night’s Magners League clash with Glasgow at Firhill Stadium.
Irish quartet Rory Best, Tom Court, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace are back in the fold as in Scottish wing Simon Danielli.
There are no restrictions with regard to their use, though Trimble is a doubt having picked up a quad injury. He did not train with his Ulster colleagues at Newforge yesterday.
In naming a 36-man squad Brian McLaughlin revealed that Stephen Ferris, BJ Botha and Ian Humphreys — who were not considered due to injuries — are making good progress in their races to be fit for the Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Northampton on April 10. Though, Luke Marshall is out for the rest of the season with a broken hand.
But before the Northampton battle, Ulster have two Magners League dates, the first being this weekend’s trip to Glasgow, the team and replacements for which will be announced at lunch-time tomorrow.
Clearly delighted to have his international players back McLaughlin said: “They’re all being considered for a starting place.
“There’s a slight doubt around Andrew Trimble who’s come back with a bit of a bang on his quad so we’re just waiting to see what the outcome of that is. He didn’t train today, so we just need to see what the outcome of that is as the week progresses.”
Reflecting on Ulster’s most recent outing — Friday night’s last-gasp 25-23 victory over the Dragons at Ravenhill which lifted them into the top four — McLaughlin stressed the positives.
“We don’t have a very good record against the Dragons. Last year we lost and we drew. The year before that we lost twice — home and away — to them, so from that point of view they’re a very difficult side to play against,” he said.
Asked why he thought Ulster are able to raise themselves for the big games but appear to find supposedly lesser opponents more difficult to see off, McLaughlin pointed to the ultra-competitive nature of the Magners League.
“It’s an exceptionally tough competition. There are some very strong team, there there is no weak team in this league. Everybody is very capable of beating everybody else,” he said.
“The best way to describe last Friday night is to say that we played for the first 15 minutes and the last five. We did something similar the week before against Aironi.
“It’s something that we have talked about and we’ve emphasised it this week. Now we’re pushing forward towards the European Cup quarter-final we have start turning in quality performances.”
With so many options available to McLaughlin and his staff in terms of the numbers in the running for inclusion, the players will be feeling the pressure of trying to nail down a place in the big matches between now and the end of the season.
“Every game now is a cup final, there’s no doubt about that,” the coach said.
“Now that we’ve got into the top four the key thing is that we’ve got to stay there.
“We’re mindful that Cardiff have got a game in hand on us so we’ve got to make sure that we go to Glasgow this weekend, perform and come out of there with a win.
“That’s the way every game is for us now.”