McFar­land names pow­er­ful side with Europe in mind

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY - GAVIN CUM­MISKEY

Ul­ster v Cardiff Blues Kingspan Sta­dium, 3.0pm Eir Sport Next Fri­day Dan McFar­land brings Ul­ster to Llanelli in the Cham­pi­ons Cup. Parc y Scar­lets no less. Hence the team on show in Belfast this af­ter­noon. To avoid an­ni­hi­la­tion they must be primed and ready.

This is close to McFar­land’s start­ing Eu­ro­pean XV, but Rory Best is still to fully re­turn – the Ire­land cap­tain makes the bench but these next few months are vi­tal to him mak­ing Ja­pan 2019 – and Ja­cob Stock­dale is also named among the re­place­ments.

In the mean­time Rob Her­ring plays his 150th Ul­ster game at hooker, while Louis Ludik keeps No 11 warm (be­fore a prob­a­ble switch to the re­serves come Cham­pi­ons Cup).

It feels like Ul­ster’s start­ing back­row, with Kiwi Sean Reidy join­ing Spring­bok Mar­cell Coet­zee and Ire­land’s Mr Ver­sa­tile Jordi Mur­phy.

An­other sum­mer ar­rival, Marty Moore, needs to fill-in his World Cup ap­pli­ca­tions. Time is run­ning away from the one-time ris­ing tight­head.

Lack of depth

Not so John Cooney, who can main­tain cur­rent form and glide into Joe Sch­midt’s Six Na­tions plans now that Kieran Marmion is in­jured.

Else­where, Ul­ster’s lack of depth is ev­i­dent even if the fast-track­ing of Michael Lowry and James Hume may reap long-term div­i­dends.

Cardiff travel with­out cur­rent start­ing Wales out­half Gareth An­scombe (foot), the son of for­mer Ul­ster coach Mark An­scombe, but Samu Manoa makes his de­but at blind­side fol­low­ing a sum­mer switch from Toulon.

Manoa came off the USA bench dur­ing Ire­land’s vic­tory last week­end.

“This week will be im­por­tant once again, and then we can park the Pro14 be­fore we start again, back into Europe,” said Cardiff coach John Mul­vi­hill. “We have a strong lead­er­ship group still in­volved in the pro­gramme but our on-field lead­er­ship needs to step up this week. Ul­ster will give us a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties, so we need to make sure we’re in the right po­si­tions to take them.” UL­STER:MLowry;HSpeight;JHume,SMcCloskey,LLudik;BBurns,JCooney;AWar­wick,R Her­ring,MMoore;AO’Con­nor(capt),KTread­well;SReidy,JMur­phy,MCoet­zee.Re­place­ments: R Best,EO’Sul­li­van,RKane,INa­gle,NTi­money,DShana­han,JMcPhillips,JS­tock­dale. CARDIFFBLUES:MMor­gan;ASum­mer­hill,HMil­lard,RLee-Lo,JHar­ries;JE­vans,LWil­liams (capt);RGill,KDacey,SAn­drews,SDavies,JTurn­bull,SManoa,ORobin­son,NWil­liams. Re­place­ments:LBelcher,RCarré,DLewis,GEarle,JDown,TWil­liams,SShin­gler,GSmith. Ref­eree:SBerry(SouthAfrica). Ver­dict:Ul­ster­win.

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