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Ulster are set to slim down for Edinburgh

By Michael Sadlier

Ulster coach Neil Doak looks likely to be heading to Edinburgh on Friday for his side's final pre-season friendly with a smaller squad as preparations begin to ramp up for the first PRO12 clash against the Ospreys on September 4.

Doak has indicated that he may trim his squad down from the 33 who were named for last Friday's 24-21 defeat to Leinster in the opening pre-season hit-out.

It is believed that Roger Wilson will be back in the mix after sitting out the friendly at the Kingspan with a foot problem, though it was unclear how long the leg injury picked up by full-back Jack Owens - which saw him stretchered off last Friday night - will keep the 19-year-old on the sidelines.

"We'll probably shave a few bodies," Doak admitted as he now prepares to cross swords with his former coach at Ulster, Alan Solomons, on Friday night.

"We're trying to give exposure to as many players as we can but ultimately the first competitive game is not far away.

"We'll probably decide later this week what our numbers will be."

Meanwhile, after another season he would doubtless prefer to forget, centre Luke Marshall at least began this campaign in the right manner with a first-half try against Leinster on Friday night.

Last season, the 24-year-old Ireland international was again blighted by injury and it came to a premature halt after he received a five-week suspension for kicking an opponent in last March's game with the Scarlets

Having not played for five months, Marshall at least admitted that, though it was great to be back, he was feeling the pace after being on the park for the first 40 minutes of the game.

"I was supposed to be fit, but I was blowing hard out there," he laughed. "It was good to get the rustiness out."

He took his try well, though, racing down the right and beating two defenders with his trademark power before dotting down.

"I didn't think I'd the gas to get there and I'm glad one of them was a hooker and not a winger," he said.

Reflecting on a particularly disjointed Ulster performance - hardly surprising yet somewhat worrying in that Leinster looked so much sharper - Marshall's view was that there were still good aspects to their play as well as much work still to be done.

"It was about getting the hit-out," Marshall stated. "We had two different teams (as did Leinster) and there were times when our concentration let us down and, against a good team like Leinster, when you lose concentration you're going to be punished.

"We've now got to learn quickly, move on for the next game and hopefully put in a better performance against Edinburgh and then move on to the Ospreys."

As for his prospects of getting regular game-time in midfield during the World Cup, Marshall wasn't prepared to take anything for granted should there be an opening at his preferred position of inside centre.

"Even though the World Cup is on and a couple of boys are away, there is serious quality around here like Sam Arnold and Stuart McCloskey and there are other guys pushing hard for places. So there is a lot of hard work to be done," Marshall added.

Even so, should Darren Cave be included in Joe Schmidt's final 31-man squad, due to be announced in the wake of Saturday's warm-up clash with Wales, Marshall knows that he just has to grab his chance.

Ireland and Leinster second row forward Sophie Spence, who has been nominated for the Women's World Player of the Year award, played a key role in her province's 36-0 inter-pro victory over Ulster at Portadown.

She was a dominant member of a very strong set-piece and Leinster were 26-0 ahead at the halfway stage. Paula Fitzpatrick, Amy Cotter, Ailis Egan, Elise O'Beirne-White and Spence all bagged a try. Nora Stapleton also touched down and added four conversions.

Ulster now travel to Munster on Saturday and are back at Portadown in a fortnight to face Connacht.

Ulster Schools defeated Connacht Schools 29-16 in a friendly before the imminent start of their inter-provincial championship.

Belfast Telegraph


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