Robbie Diack was a late withdrawal from the Ulster team to face Ospreys in this evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash in Liberty Stadium, Swansea (6.30).
He had suffered a dead leg in the opening win against Glasgow Warriors last week but it was hoped he would recover in time to face the defending champions in Wales.
However, while he was named in the starting XV announced yesterday afternoon, he was later withdrawn.
Mike McComish, who had not been named in the initial match day 23 yesterday, was put straight in for the injured Diack.
Diack has been a key figure in the Ulster backrow this season and it is a huge blow for the side to travel without him to a place where they have only won once since they lifted the Celtic League title in 2006.
However, on a plus, Irish internationals, Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble were both included on the replacements bench and are set to get at least a minimum of 20 minutes as they are released from the Irish Rugby Management programme.
Head coach, Mark Anscombe, has opted to rotate his squad for the Ospreys challenge, handing starts to prop, Declan Fitzpatrick, outhalf, Niall O’Connor and centre, Darren Cave.
Fitzpatrick and McComish are the only two changes to a front eight which worked earnestly last week and will again have to step up to the mark once again if they are to impose themselves on an Ospreys side smarting from losing in Italy to Treviso last week.
New Zealand World Cup winning prop, John Afoa, moves to the bench to allow Irish international Fitzpatrick start.
In the backline, Paddy Jackson, who limped out of the game against Glasgow last week after less than 10 minutes play, has still not fully recovered from a calf strain and O’Connor, who will hope to bring his place kicking boots to Swansea, steps up.
Cave, who got limited time with Ireland against the All Blacks during the summer tour, came off the bench last week and is preferred ahead of the exciting prospect, Chris Farrell, who is not included in the team.
Cave forms the midfield partnership with the talented young Luke Marshall – who is keen to offer his place kicking skills if asked.
Ulster will be hoping to improve their away form, having suffered defeats in their last two games on the road in the PRO12, at Connacht and Munster. The Ulstermen have won three of their last four encounters against Welsh regions, but have lost on their last four visits to the Principality.
Ospreys’ seven game winning streak in the PRO12 ended in Italy last Friday, with a surprise 6-12 reversal to Benetton Treviso.
The Welsh region have won their last three matches at Liberty Stadium and lost only once to an Irish province last season: 14-15 to Ulster at Ravenhill on 24th February.
The last four fixtures between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day.
Anscombe said he was delighted to welcome back Ferris and Trimble to his match day squad: “When you bring players of that calibre back into the mix it gives everyone a lift.
“The two boys haven’t played much rugby in a while so you have to put that in perspective and not expect too much from them this early. Putting them on the bench is a good way of easing them back in.
Explaining the changes to his starting team, he commented: “With Paddy Jackson it was a precaution with his calf; he’s not 100 per cent.
“But he’s feeling much better than he was and he’s progressing well. It wasn’t worth the risk and we wanted to give Niall another chance to show what he can do.
“Darren Cave was on the bench last week, he’s been training with the team now for a few weeks and I though he came on for the last quarter of an hour last week and added greatly to the team. “He’s an International so he brings that experience to a youthful backline. Declan is the same, he’s been training well and we wanted to have a look at him from the start.”
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen; Niall O’Connor, Michael Heaney; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Sea n Doyle, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, John Afoa, Neil McComb, Stephen Ferris, Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Trimble.