Ulster ‘A’ will be going all out to make it two wins from two in their back-to-back rounds of the British and Irish Cup when they meet the Cardiff Blues Premiership Select today at Pontypridd (kick-off 2.30pm).
After last week’s rather laboured display in their 16-10 victory over the Welsh at Eaton Park, the ‘A’ side — who have won two from their three games in the competition — know that they will have to be far more accurate in today’s must-win outing in what is shaping up to be a closely-fought battle for qualification from Pool One.
The youthful squad coached by Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson — who had been top of the group ahead of last night’s crunch game between Jersey Reds and London Scottish — will be hoping to have absorbed the lessons from the previous week’s less than convincing display as they head to meet the bottom-placed, and winless, Welsh side on Pontypridd’s RFC’s artificial pitch.
Johnny McPhillips, who kicked 11 of the ‘A’ side’s points last week against a Cardiff side reduced to 14 men for most of the game, said: “They (the coaches) have made the point that we have to back ourselves and potentially just throw the ball about a bit more.
“We’re on an artificial surface and that will suit us.”
Ireland Under-20s ace McPhillips, who will start at out-half today and who is also the competition’s leading place-kicker with 34 points from three games, continued: “The pitch was quite heavy in Ballymena which made it tricky so hopefully we can throw the ball around on this surface.
“We’re in a healthy position though and we’ll just focus now on the task in hand.
“Having played them last week we know they have a very good set-piece and they have good ball carriers so we’ll have to front up physically to play the game that we want.
“It’s important, of course, that we get off to a good start,” added the player who is on an Ulster Development contract.
Selection-wise, Ulster have mixed things up a bit in their backline with Brett Herron making way for McPhillips, who moves to 10 from full-back.
Jack Owens — who scored the sole Ulster try last week — is shifted in from wing to full-back with David Busby now wearing the No.11 shirt.
As Rob Lyttle is travelling with the senior side to Clermont, Queen’s University player Connor Kelly comes into the side on the right wing.
Up front, Tommy O’Hagan starts at loosehead prop in an otherwise unchanged pack with hooker John Andrew skippering.
Ulster ‘A’: J Owens, C Kelly, R Butler, M Best, D Busby, J McPhillips, D Shanahan; T O’Hagan, J Andrew (capt), J Simpson, C Smyth, S Mulholland, N Timoney, C Joyce, L Dow
Replacements: J Murphy, P Cooper, J McCusker, Z McCall, J Stewart, B Herron, J Jordan