Ulster must beat Blues if goals are to be met, says Andrew Trimble
Former Ulster star Andrew Trimble believes the province can bring some feel-good factor back to Irish rugby tonight when they host Cardiff Blues.
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Trimble, who retired in 2018 as Ulster’s most-capped player on 229 appearances until Darren Cave equalled the feat in his final game last May, is confident that Dan McFarland’s squad can make it three wins from four in the PRO14 this evening.
“This is a good opportunity for Ulster to kick on,” said the 35-year-old, who played 70 times for Ireland.
“They can — the Cheetahs game aside — now make a bit of progress,” he added of the fact that the province have another home game, against Zebre, next week.
“That (playing at home) is good for confidence.
“If Ulster are going to be challenging again this year, and get ahead of where they were last year, they really need to be winning games like this,” he said of taking on the Blues, who have former Ulster favourite Nick Williams in their panel.
After bouncing back two weeks ago with a bonus-point win over the Southern Kings, following the horrible near record-breaking defeat at the Cheetahs, Trimble reckons that Ulster, who are now unbeaten at home for just over a year, can build some good momentum towards next month's start to the European campaign at Bath.
With Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale, Rob Herring and Jordi Murphy only recently returned from Japan, and not involved this evening, the former winger feels that Ulster's available squad is strong enough to win the next two games before heading towards a tricky assignment at Munster.
"I think John Cooney has been one of Ulster's best players since coming here and he really gets the team ticking," said Trimble of McFarland's likely key men in the clash with Cardiff.
"I've also been impressed by Billy Burns' kicking game and it's nice to see Craig Gilroy out there again after being out for so long.
"Marcell Coetzee is also back now as well and that is vital for Ulster, while Sean Reidy has been busy so far.
"I actually think he's (Reidy) a very underrated player and very important for the side as well," Trimble stated.
"I think they are playing a nice brand of rugby and are counter-attacking well.
"It's like last year, whenever Ulster clicked they looked really good and produced an entertaining but also effective brand of rugby.
"It was also pragmatic and I think the emphasis Dan McFarland has put on the skill development is obviously coming through. It will be interesting to see Ulster continue right through with that kind of mindset this season."
Selection-wise for tonight, utility back Will Addison's return is the most prominent call as he returns to play for Ulster for the first time since last January and is selected at full-back with Matt Faddes making way to the bench.
Addison, who last played any rugby for Ireland in August's penultimate World Cup warm-up game against Wales in Cardiff, had been linked with being a possible emergency replacement for Robbie Henshaw in Japan, but the 27-year-old Cumbrian was, instead, sidelined with a hamstring issue.
McFarland has made four other changes from the side which defeated Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth with James Hume coming in for Stuart McCloskey, who misses out with a presumed injury.
Prop Jack McGrath returns after missing the Kings clash while Kieran Treadwell is preferred as starting lock to Sam Carter and John Andrew is at hooker in place of late Ireland World Cup call-up Herring.
On the bench, meanwhile, Nick Timoney also returns to the squad after recovering from hand surgery after picking up the issue in pre-season.
Andrew Trimble is part of the Premier Sports team for tonight's live coverage of Ulster v Cardiff Blues in the Guinness PRO14. Tune in from 7pm on Premier Sports 1 for the best coverage, analysis and all the inside track brought to you by Graham Little, Mark Robson, Owain Gwynedd, Andrew Trimble and Philippa Tuttiett