PRO12 Rugby: Tommy Bowe keen to make his mark for Ulster against Ospreys

Tommy Bowe
Tommy Bowe
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Tommy Bowe will look to put an extended injury lay-off behind him on Saturday evening if he gets the opportunity to play for Ulster against Ospreys when the sides meet in a top of the Guinness PRO12 table game at Kingspan Stadium (6.30pm).

The British Lions winger is hoping to come off the bench against the Welsh side as the league leaders look to keep their position at the top of the standings.

Bowe will also be hoping it will be a real kick-start almost a year of waiting to play after what was a most frustrating season for him last year.

The Irish international three-quarter suffered serious knee ligament damage in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss last October. He then made a return to playing for Ulster in April, but has not played since with the knee injury flaring up again.

Things have been positive for Bowe on the training ground recently, but he is keen to be involved in what he has previously described as a superb Ulster squad.

He is almost certainly going to get game time tonight against the third-placed Ospreys, who were the team to beat as the campaign got underway, winning their first three games each with try-scoring bonus points before having their wings clipped by Leinster in Dublin last weekend 31-19 - they had been 31-0 down.

One player certain to get a huge welcome tonight will be Ireland captain, Rory Best, who makes his first start of the new season having come off the bench last week against Glasgow.

The hooker is one of eight changes to the side which won 22-17 at Scotstoun with Kyle McCall joining him in the front row.

With both co-captains Rob Herring and Andrew Trimble both unavailable Franco van der Merwe has been handed the captain’s armband.

Herring - having started in the previous four games - is rested under squad management giving John Andrew a spot on the bench and an opportunity for some rare game time. Trimble continues to recover from a foot injury, but is understood to be making good progress and he may be available to play away to champions Connacht next weekend.

Van der Merwe is retained in the second row along with Alan O’Connor while the backrow trio of Iain Henderson, Sean Reidy and Roger Wilson remain unchanged.

Paul Marshall gets the start at scrumhalf this weekend - Ruan Pienaar on the bench - while Paddy Jackson, who has picked up two Guinness man of the match accolades already this season - will again control matters at outhalf.

There are several changes in the back line. Jared Payne moves to centre in the absence of Stuart McCloskey, Stuart Olding and Luke Marshall, and teams up with Darren Cave, who impressed last weekend in Glasgow.

Charles Piutau - who could fit in anywhere in the back line - vacates the winger’s berth and moves to fullback. Craig Gilroy has recovered from injury and returns to the side with the in-form Louis Ludik on the other flank.

Ulster are one of two sides still with a 100 per cent record this campaign - Cardiff Blues being the other - and assistant coach, Allen Clarke, accepted the Kingspan side were there to be shot down.

“We are at the top at the moment so we will be in others sights. Ospreys are third so this is a big top of the table clash even at this early stage of the season.

“The boys have been really good. They recognise that we have been good, but we have not been brilliant.

“There is a lot more to come from us. We had purple patches last week in Glasgow and in the games previousl.

“Certainly one area we have focused on is perhaps not converting the chances we have had.”

TEAM LINE-UPS:

Ulster: C Piutau, C Gilroy, J Payne, D Cave, L Ludik, P Jackson, P Marshall; K McCall, R Best, R Ah You, A O’Connor, F van der Merwe (capt), I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson.

Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, R Kane, K Treadwell, R Diack, R Pienaar, B Herron, T Bowe.

Ospreys: D Evans, J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker, D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, S Parry, D Arhip, B Davies, A Wyn Jones (capt), J King, J Tipuric, D Baker.

Replacements: S Baldwin, P James, M Fia, R Thornton, O Cracknell, T Ardron, T Habberfield.