Ulster are in the driving seat to claim a runners up spot in the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup and a win against bottom side Bath would make that a certainty.
As expected Dan McFarland has opted for a full strength side unlike his opposite number, Stuart Hooper, who has rested a number of key players with a big game against Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership on the horizon.
Marty Moore misses out after picking up an injury in Clermont last weekend with Tom O’Toole, buoyed by his recent call up to the Irish Six Nations panel, selected as his replacement. He starts alongside Rob Herring and Jack McGrath in the front row. Iain Henderson captains the side from the second row along with Alan O’Connor while Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee make up the back row.
Nine to 15 remains unchanged from the defeat in Massif Central last weekend. John Cooney and Billy Burns are the half backs with Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall occupying the centre spots. A lightning quick back three is made up of Jacob Stockdale, Robert Baloucoune and Will Addison.
A win is the minimum and while it is possible for Ulster to qualify with a loss tomorrow a win will allow the Ulster faithful to use the calculators to work out where the destination in the quarter finals would be rather than working out who must defeat who for Ulster to qualify. Obviously a Harlequins win would allow Ulster to top their group – the first time they’ve done that since 2013-14.
I thought Bath would rotate their squad ahead of the game tomorrow. A must win game against Leicester Tigers lies in wait next week, a game that might not matter in context of Premiership relegation if the folks at Allianz Park continue in the way they are heading.
There’s no sign of Anthony Watson, Francois Louw, Semesa Rokoduguni, Joe Cokanasiga, Zach Mercer or Taulupe Faletau with the only internationally capped players starting including Charlie Ewels, Sam Underhill, Freddie Burns and Ruaridh McConnochie.
Gabe Hamer-Webb starts on the right wing for Bath and scored a scorching try when both sides met in November. It was his first touch of the ball on his debut and left Addison on the floor bringing the game once again into balance. I’m sure he will have a few opportunities tomorrow afternoon.
Tomorrow sees a family affair at ten with Freddie up against Billy. The Bath out half hasn’t played a lot of rugby this season in that position with Rhys Priestland the preferred option. Billy on the other hand has been playing out of his skin this season and has recorded three try assists and two tries to date. Both however will be keen to gain the family bragging rights.
Set piece was crucial last weekend and played a massive part in determining a loss for Ulster. I’d like to see Henderson and co dominate at the lineout while McGrath and O’Toole provide a solid platform to attack from at scrum time.
The FRU predicts: I’m confident ahead of tomorrow. I think Ulster will win well against a depleted Bath side. Ulster by 15-20 points.
|Will Addison||15||Tom Homer|
|Robert Baloucoune||14||Gabe Hamer-Webb|
|Luke Marshall||13||Jackson Willison|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||Max Wright|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Ruaridh McConnochie|
|Billy Burns||10||Freddie Burns|
|John Cooney||9||Ollie Fox|
|Jack McGrath||1||Beno Obano|
|Rob Herring||2||Jack Walker|
|Marty Moore||3||Will Stuart|
|Alan O’Connor||4||Matt Garvey|
|Iain Henderson||5||Charlie Ewels|
|Sean Reidy||6||Tom Ellis|
|Jordi Murphy||7||Sam Underhill|
|Marcell Coetzee||8||Josh Bayliss|
|Adam McBurney||16||Ross Batty|
|Eric O’Sullivan||17||Lucas Noguera|
|Ross Kane||18||Sam Nixon|
|Kieran Treadwell||19||Josh McNally|
|Nick Timoney||20||Mike Williams|
|Dave Shanahan||21||Chris Cook|
|Bill Johnston||22||Rhys Priestland|
|Craig Gilroy||23||Aled Brew|