Ulster have been dealt a huge blow with the news that star back-rower Marcell Coetzee will miss out on their Champions Cup quarter-final with Toulouse.
The Springbok number eight was removed from last weekend’s loss to Leinster in the PRO14 final after just 48 minutes thanks to what head coach Dan McFarland described as a “tightening up.”
That meant his involvement in tomorrow’s clash was always in huge doubt and, having lost his fitness battle, he has been replaced by Nick Timoney in the number eight jersey.
The loss of the side’s talisman is a serious dent to the province’s hopes of causing an upset at the Stade Ernest Wallon, although elsewhere there is a recall of John Cooney to the starting line-up.
The scrum-half, who like Coetzee has been nominated for EPCR’s Player of the Year thanks to his earlier performances in this tournament, had been benched last week in what McFarland called the toughest decision of his coaching career.
While Alby Mathewson did little wrong against Leinster, Ulster will be hoping that the one-week demotion offers Cooney something of a reset and allows him to get back to his brilliant best after a seemingly rusty emergence out of lockdown over the past month.
Cooney is the only change to the side’s starting backline, with Mike Lowry, Jacob Stockdale, Rob Lyttle, Stuart McCloskey, James Hume, and Billy Burns all retained.
There are, in addition to Coetzee, two further changes up front.
Jack McGrath comes into the side at loosehead, taking the place of Eric O’Sullivan who drops to the bench while his fellow Irish international Jordi Murphy is also restored.
With Sean Reidy switching to blindside flanker, Murphy is in his more familiar openside role with Matty Rea the odd man out in the back-row shuffle, the Ballymena man having to make do with a spot among the replacements.
McFarland has once again opted for a 6/2 split on the bench but, with Ian Madigan absent, Matt Faddes is the other back alongside Mathewson while Kieran Treadwell is the extra forward having missed out entirely on the 23 a week ago.
Ulster: Michael Lowry; Rob Lyttle, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Kieran Treadwell, Alby Mathewson, Matt Faddes, Matthew Rea.