With Ulster’s five-man Irish contingent missing from the equation, the panel for Friday night’s Ravenhill date with Magners League leaders, Munster, is much-changed.
Circumstances have forced coach Brian McLaughlin’s hand in naming his 30-man squad for in addition to captain Rory Best, Tom Court, Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace being in Limerick where Declan Kidney’s men are preparing for the four-match Guinness Autumn Series, seven others are ruled out by injury.
They are Darren Cave and Jamie Smith — neither of whom has made it despite having been expected to be fit — Simon Danielli, TJ Anderson and longer term absentees Declan Fitzpatrick, Adam Macklin and David Pollock.
Court’s Irish involvement coupled with the injury-enforced unavailability of Fitzpatrick and Macklin has seriously depleted Ulster’s stock of props.
As a result, Alan Whitten and Jerry Cronin are included as front row cover.
Lock Neil McComb also is named, boosting the engine-room representation to five, the others being Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Dan Tuohy and Ryan Caldwell.
With Trimble, Wallace, Danielli, Smith and Cave missing from the back line, Paul Emerick, Jonny Shiels, Luke Marshall and Ian Porter find themselves in the mix.
The starting line-up and replacements will be announced tomorrow.
Following two successive defeats, whoever is selected will be
keen to get the Ulster bandwagon back on the road, a point underlined by Robbie Diack.
“We’ve come to half-time feeling so confident in those games (against Biarritz and Edinburgh) and then something has happened. I’m not sure what that is,” said the 24-year-old South African who, at 18st, is the third heaviest of Ulster’s forwards behind Court (19st 2lbs) and Tim Barker (18st 5lbs).
“None of us is. Unfortunately we can’t pinpoint it; if we knew what it was then it wouldn’t happen.
“This week at Ravenhill we know that we have to put our two first 40-minute halves together and play for the full 80.”
Diack has cautioned against knee-jerk reactions and losing faith. There is no need for any such reaction, he insists.
“If we start panicking then we’ll definitely be going in the wrong direction. Thankfully there is no sign of that,” he said.
“Maybe last year, in the same situation, we would have started
to panic, but this time there are big enough players — leaders — around to ensure that doesn’t take place.
“That’s where we’re lucky. Ulster have so many talented players and so many experienced players, even when we have guys away or injured. We have Bryan Young — over 100 caps for Ulster — and Nigel Brady, who has 70 or something, coming in. They have so much experience.”
He knows what to expect against Munster. Think ‘hard’. And multiply. Many times.
So training, too, has been hard in the past couple of days, something Diack welcomes.
“Sometimes we accept mistakes in training and that can carry on into the game. This week we have not accepted mistakes,” he said.
“That has been a big focus for us. The coaches and the senior players have been hard on us and that has been good.
“We have been saying to ourselves that we can’t go on making mistakes. Eventually we have to learn from them. We have just had two very positive days in training so now we have to wait and see what happens.
“Playing in front of the home crowd is a real motivation so I’m really looking forward to facing Munster at Ravenhill on Friday night.”