Murphy set for debut as Ulster eye momentum
Ulster v Edinburgh, Guinness Pro14 Championship: Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35pm
Ireland flanker Jordi Murphy will make his first appearance in an Ulster jersey against Edinburgh this Friday night at the Kingspan Stadium.
Murphy moved north this summer after winning the double with his native Leinster last year and has been cleared to face the Scottish outfit after playing for the national side in all three Tests on the victorious summer tour to Australia.
With Marcel Coetzee having returned to action and the emergence of Nick Timoney over the past 12 months, the 27-year-old gives Ulster another quality operator in a back-row department beginning to boast real depth, although he will surely be adding to his 23 Ireland caps during both November and the Six Nations window.
Jean Deysel, too, is back training this week after persistent struggles with his knee this summer, although Friday’s second game of the season will likely come too soon for him.
Ulster, who began the PRO14 campaign with a nail-biting last-gasp win over last year’s beaten finalists Scarlets last Saturday, are also boosted by the return to action of hooker Rob Herring, another who impressed in a green jersey back in June.
Murphy’s former Leinster team-mate Marty Moore, who came to Ulster via a two-year stint at Wasps, will not, however, be fit to make his own bow for the side as he continues to work through a knock picked up in training last week.
His suspected loss is offset somewhat by the news that Wiehahn Herbst, notionally Ulster’s first-choice tight-head for the past four seasons, is fit again and should play some part.
Scrum coach Aaron Dundon said yesterday: “Wiehahn Herbst was injured at the end of last season but we put him through a block of six weeks pre-season. He then came back into the pre-season late but hopefully he’s involved this weekend.”
Last weekend, the props used by Ulster were decidedly less experienced in nature, with only starting loose-head Andy Warwick older than 23.
Tom O’Toole got the nod at tight-head, although departed early for an HIA and looks set to miss out this weekend.
He packed plenty into his 19 minutes however, including earning his side a scrum penalty that was knocked over by John Cooney. His replacement, Ross Kane, didn’t disappoint either and it was his last-minute burst that ultimately yielded the opportunity to kick for the win.
Debutant Eric O’Sullivan, a Leinster native making his first ever senior outing, was solid off the bench too.
“For Eric, probably his work rate and what he does round the field is pretty similar to the way Tom O’Toole plays,” said Dundon of the youngsters making an impact in a position where it is normally gnarled veterans who succeed.
“What they give you around the pitch is their tackle quality, the amount of tackles they get through, their ball carries, the unseen efforts, the clean-outs.
“Eric O’Sullivan, the other day he was about 30 metres ahead of any other player when he was chasing down to join Gilly (Craig Gilroy) when he made a break. That’s a talented effort and that’s what we like and what we need, guys working hard for each other.
“It’s great those two boys are showing really good efforts. The way we want to play with speed, they fit really well into that.
“I think there’s going to be times when it’s not going to be perfect for them scrum-time. There’s going to be games where they might get a few things wrong but as long as they’re learning and if they make mistakes, they learn from those mistakes.
“We saw from Tommy O’Toole last year there were a couple of scrums where he did struggle but then when we played against Ospreys in the last game he corrected that, so we just want to make sure they keep developing and keep learning from mistakes.”
If there is a forgotten man in the propping department, it is fair to say it’s Rodney Ah You. The former Connacht man, capped three times by Ireland during Joe Schmidt’s tenure, has featured only once for the province since the end of February, managing only 10 starts since October 2016.
However, despite his infrequent appearances and the fact that no extension to his two-year deal was ever confirmed, he is now in his third season with the organisation.
In an effort to get some game time after injuries, the 29-year-old featured for the Ulster Academy side in their game against their counterparts from Leinster last weekend, coming off the bench as a replacement loose-head.
Dundon confirmed there was an effort being made to increase the side’s options in the No.1 jersey.
“Rodney when he was younger played loose-head and obviously we know he can play tight-head,” he said. “We want someone who can play both positions. It gives us a bit more stability and back up, especially when, starting this week, we’re playing in two competitions (with the second string in the Celtic Cup).
“Obviously we’’re a bit short with Marty Moore being injured, Tommy O’Hagan being injured. It’s good to have Rodney there. He can play both and it just keeps us a little bit stronger in both positions.”
Edinburgh got their own campaign off to a losing start when going down to Ospreys at Liberty Stadium, with head coach Richard Cockerill believing his squad will need to quickly regroup ahead of Friday’s trip to Kingspan Stadium.
“Ospreys played some nice rugby, but it wasn’t a great game across the board,” he said.
“We made too many errors when we talked about controlling the ball and putting them under pressure. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. I think those turnovers really cost us.
“The players need to learn a lot quickly. We’ve got some homework to do and we need to put it into action.”