Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Ulster

Neil Doak forced to shuffle Ulster side over bans for Roger Wilson and Luke Marshall

By Michael Sadlier

Just when you might have thought that all was set fair for Ulster to potentially close out this segment of games in a fairly unruffled manner, along comes a sizeable bump in the road at a rather critical time of the season.

The suspensions handed down to Luke Marshall and Roger Wilson have certainly done some damage and coach Neil Doak has now had to reconstruct his midfield for tomorrow's trip to the Dragons - where Ulster are going in search of a fifth straight PRO12 win ahead of the break - with short-term deal player Mike Stanley being parachuted in for his first start.

Even though Ulster are thought likely to appeal Marshall's somewhat Draconian-looking five-week ban, it doesn't alter the fact that they currently have two inside centres now having to sit things out for disciplinary reasons as Stuart McCloskey is also serving time for his red card in Edinburgh.

Hardly the ideal back-drop to bring Samoa international Stanley into play but needs must and the 25-year-old can operate in the position even though he was brought here primarily to cover at out-half for the injured Paddy Jackson.

And now were are going to find out what Stanley can bring to the party as last week's late cameo off the bench against the Scarlets was merely a cosmetic exercise. The word is that he is looking sharp but a lack of game-time and an outing at an intimidating venue will be quite a test for the former Saracens academy player.

Should Stanley not have the gas then Doak can then fall back to the bench where promising Ireland U20s player Sam Arnold is to be found though, again, this might be an even bigger challenge for a young player who has not been exposed to this level before.

As for Stanley, he will have to gel quickly in a match situation with centre partner Darren Cave who is also having to handle a new experience as he is skippering the side in the absence of Wilson.

Elsewhere, Wilson's one-week suspension has been less difficult to manage with the only other change to the starting team seeing Iain Henderson return from Ireland camp.

Henderson comes straight in at blindside flanker, while the rest of the back row remains unaltered with Clive Ross at seven and Nick Williams at eight.

And with Robbie Diack back on the bench after injury, Ulster have some reasonable cover should Henderson have a certain time limit imposed on his contribution due to Ireland's call.

Though their away record this season remains rather unimpressive, allied to the fact that they have found Rodney Parade to be a difficult enough place to grind out results in the past, Doak will still be expecting his squad to have enough in the tank to douse the lowly Dragons' fire.

The pack's set-piece work has been a useful platform of late and this should continue tomorrow even though Ulster are still lacking a specialist openside flanker with notable groundhog abilities.

Ruan Pienaar will undoubtedly feature prominently in Ulster's game-plan which you might expect will involve much trucking up by the pack and tactical kicking from the South African who looks well set to pass the 500-mark in terms of points scored the PRO12 - he is currently in 499 - when the penalties hopefully come.

While Stanley prepares for his proper introduction to the PRO12, Ian Humphreys knows that he will also have to produce a solid performance and one with greater authority than of late.

But if Ulster can dominate the tight exchanges and play a pragmatic territorial game then getting out of Newport with four points behind them will be a very acceptable result. Should Craig Gilroy again dance his way over for a try or two then that will also be fine but the feeling is that Ulster's agenda is maybe to do nothing too flash, but just win.

Theoretically, they can do that.

Former Ireland, London Irish, Ulster and Connacht scrum-half Kieran Campbell has been appointed the Head of the Hughes Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy.

The 35 year-old takes over from Allen Clarke who is now an Assistant Coach with the senior team.

Campbell played 115 times for Ulster between 2001 and 2008, before retiring from the game in 2010. He completed a PGCE and taught in Dromore High School while starting his coaching career as an assistant coach to Justin Fitzpatrick at Dungannon RFC.

His success there led to him being offered an Elite Performance Development Officer role and he worked as the Academy's backs specialist for two years before being appointed to the role of Academy Manager (Acting) in July 2014.

Campbell was Head Coach of the team that won the U19 inter-provincial championship in the 2012-2013 season and the Ulster U20s which won the inter-provincial title for the second time in three years this season.

Campbell said: "Having been an Ulster player, I feel that I am exceptionally privileged to be helping to create the environment where young players can fulfill their potential and reach the standard required to represent the province.

"If the senior team is to compete at the top level, then we need to be producing players that can be successful for Ulster in the PRO12 and European Rugby Champions Cup. I want to build on the work that Allen (Clarke) has already begun at the Academy and to put in place a programme that is exceptional and that is the best in Europe."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph