Ulster coach, Mark Anscombe, has put his faith in his young guns to go to Scotstoun on Friday night and maintain the league leaders’ challenge on track in the RaboDirect PRO12 when they face second placed Glasgow Warriors.
It is a hugely massive game for both clubs, with Glasgow looking to reduce the long term leaders’ seven point advantage as both strive to secure home draws in the Championship semi-finals.
Both sides are disrupted by international call-ups – Ireland face Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday as the Six Nations resumes for both nations – but Ulster are also severely depleted with a plethora of players on the injury list.
The Irish Province had 19 players unavailable on Tuesday when Anscombe named his provisional panel.
And the coach has opted to hand maiden starts to two youngsters in a side which shows 11 changes and some interesting positional selections.
Ireland Under-20, Conor Joyce, who has played in both Six Nations games, will start at blindside flanker. A promising talent, Joyce has featured for the Ravens previously and is a product of the Ulster Academy.
The unknown quantity of winger, Neil Walsh, will finally be revealed after he made his debut from the bench last week, but got little opportunity to display his wares.
As revealed by the News Letter this morning, Ulster will start Ireland centre, Paddy Wallace at outhalf and Ireland winger, Andrew Trimble at second centre, in a new look midfield, which includes exciting young Ireland Under-20 international centre, Stuart Olding at inside centre.
Both Wallace and Trimble are not new to their positions tonight, but it is two years since Wallace started at outhalf in the Ulster shirt.
Ruan Pienaar gets the start at scrumhalf, while Ricky Andrew is retained at fullback after an impressive game in last week’s 26-3 bonus point win over Zebre at Ravenhill. Michael Allen returns to the starting line-up on the right wing.
Nigel Brady has emerged from the cold, resurrected to start at hooker having not been involved since the start of the year. Brady has had no game time even with his club side, Dungannon, and his inclusion ahead of Rob Herring and Niall Annett – both used extensively in recent weeks during Rory Best’s absence on Ireland duty, did come as a bit of a surprise.
John Afoa will skipper the side from tighthead with Callum Black as expected completing the front row and Neil McComb and Dan Tuohy, hopefully fully recovered now from a troublesome calf injury, form the second row partnership.
Robbie Diack starts again at No 8. Ali Birch returns to the openside and along with Joyce it does leave Ulster looking slightly light in the backrow department.
While Ulster may look young and light in places, assistant coach, Neil Doak, said the young guys brought their own dimension to the game.
“Most of the young players have had game time with Ulster. They are excited when they get the opportunity and they also know they are getting a great chance to show us exactly what they have.
“They want to play week in and week out, but the thing is that we have used a squad system this year and it means the younger players add to their experience.”