Ulster fringe players get opportunity against Munster

.'Ulster's Stuart McCloskey
.'Ulster's Stuart McCloskey

Ulster are expected to give some of their fringe players an outing in Limerick’s Thomond Park when they face Munster on Saturday in the last of the regular season PRO12 fixtures.

From Ulster’s perspective the game is effectively a dead rubber as the outcome will not affect their final finishing place of fourth.

Ulster picked up the necessary point they required to be certain of fourth place and a place in the play-offs after last week’s 22-20 loss to Leinster at Ravenhill.

They now await to see which of the three teams above them they will have to travel to on the weekend of May 17 for the semi-finals.

Current leaders and defending champions, Leinster, are odds-on favourites to top the table when they take on Edinburgh at the RDS, Dublin.

They need two points to be certain of first place which would not only secure a home semi but the right to stage the final in Dublin as well.

Second placed Glasgow Warriors, who are four points behind, are also expected to secure second place when they entertain Zebre.

Munster are only a point behind the Scottish side and know they need the other two to slip up if they were to take one of the top two spots.

Ulster assistant coach, Jonny Bell, knows that scenario means Munster will be coming out of the traps hard in Limerick.

“They (Munster) will be going full guns to put themselves in a strong position if any of the other two were to trip up,” said Bell.

“We know that the result from our point of view will not affect things on the leaderboard, but we are certainly not going down there just to make up the numbers either.

“We want to put in a performance, make a statement and pitch up.

“It is after all an Irish derby clash and there is an opportunity for some players to show the management what they have looking ahead to the future.”

With a semi-final place secured, and probably against Leinster, Ulster will look to rest or rotate a number of players this weekend after what was a huge physical contest last Friday at Ravenhill.

Some of the fringe players are likely to get a run out with James McKinney, who is departing after this season to return to Rotherham, probably playing in his last game in an Ulster shirt at outhalf.

Stuart McCloskey is almost certain to start in the centre and Michael Allen and Craig Gilroy are also likely to get a run out, Allen in the centre with McCloskey.

Bell added: “There will be opportunities for certain players and that is a good thing. At this time of the year when you get into the business end the best clubs want to have players fresh and motivated.

“You have to mix it up and change it a bit. It gives those players further experience and exposure at this level - and an Irish derby is the ideal game in which to really test yourself.”