Ulster coach Mark Anscombe makes big calls up front

Ulster prop Callum Black will make his first competitive Heineken Cup start against Leicester
Ulster prop Callum Black will make his first competitive Heineken Cup start against Leicester

Ulster coach, Mark Anscombe, has made two huge calls up front ahead of Saturday’s Pool Five shoot-out with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road (kick-off 6pm).

Announcing his team later on Friday, Anscombe has made two changes to the pack which started against Montpellier a week previously at Ravenhill.

Irish prop, Tom Court and backrow Robbie Diack have been dropped to the bench with Callum Black coming into the starting front row to earn his first competitive start in Europe.

Black, who has 11 Euro apperances from the bench, has impressed this season and it is certainly a massive boost for his confidence, and perhaps a sign of the future, given that Court will be leaving Ulster at the end of the season having signed a three-year deal with London Irish.

Diack, who has stood in as captain on three occasions this season, is replaced at blindside loose by Roger Wilson, with Nick Williams and Chris Henry retaining their places at No 8 and openside respectively.

Williams, just back from injury and who looked to struggle during his 40 minute start last week, will be looking to have a much better game.

Certainly his physicality on the pitch will be massive for Ulster and Wilson has impressed on every appearance he has made this year.

It means the same back row which started in the corresponding fixture at Ravenhill in October - which Ulster won 22-16 - starts tomorrow.

As already confirmed, Craig Gilroy will start in spite of suffering a hairline fracture to his nose last week.

However, while Anscombe has used a 6:2 ratio on the bench in recent weeks, he has opted to select a third back this week, with David McIlwaine coming into the panel.

The other change comes in the replacements where Ricky Lutton is named in front of Irish international Declan Fitzpatrick who was ruled out with concussion following a cameo appearance off the bench.

Although Ulster are unbeaten in Pool Five and have a two point lead on Leicester in the standings as the sides go into the game, the reigning English champions will start as slight favourites with home advantage.

And while most games are usually settled up front, this is one heavyweight clash where the battle of the eights will be critical to how things go.

Ulster certainly have a backline to match any in Europe, but they need to have ball from the set piece and first phases.

Ulster prop, John Afoa agreed, adding: “Nothing’s changed for us in the scrum. We’re making sure our technique is good. We can’t change last Friday night (in reference to the scrum perhaps creaking a little against Montpellier) but we know we lacked a little intensity at scrum time and we need to bring that edge at Leicester.

“Technically we’re very good, our height was good, our shape was good but that five per cent was missing.

“We let ourselves down and Saturday’s a chance to prove we are a good scrum.”