Muller returns to boost Ulster for testing trip to Connacht

Skipper Johann Muller is back from his latest injury woe to give RaboDirect Pro12 leaders Ulster a massive boost ahead of Friday’s derby against Connacht in Galway.

A frustrated Muller has suffered three arm problems this season and has not played a full game for the province since October.

However, the bicep tear suffered against Saracens a fortnight ago is not as bad as feared and Muller is passed fit for the penultimate game of the league programme.

Following a welcome five-pointer against the Dragons last week, Muller is just one of Ulster’s big names back in harness again with Chris Henry, Jared Payne, Paddy Jackson, John Afoa and Andrew Trimble set to start. Apart from the long-term injuries, the only absentee is Ireland winger Craig Gilroy who is sidelined with a minor groin problem. Ruan Pienaar will return at scrum-half after his stint in the number 10 jersey last week while Paul Marshall is in line to make his 100th appearance from the bench.

Ulster, currently topping the Pro12 with Leinster three points behind and Glasgow a further point adrift in third, will be keen to book a home semi-final play-off before facing the Blues at Ravenhill in their final league game on May 3. However, assistant coach Jonny Bell knows the huge challenge facing them in Galway on Friday night.

“It will be no easy job going to the Sportsground,” said Bell, now Ulster’s defence coach who played alongside Eric Elwood during his days in an Ireland jersey. “Connacht will be particularly buoyed by their victory away to Edinburgh last weekend. It is coming to the end of Eric’s regime as well and the boys will be up for it. It’s a derby so that will add spice to the occasion. We have a lot to play for with a home semi-final chance so we will have to front up.

“You never know what sort of weather you are going to get in Galway. If the present wind persists, it will blow in from Galway Bay, and there is no better man than their number 10 Dan Parks to utilise those conditions. He is a dead eye anywhere near the sticks. We want that home semi-final spot and we have to go to places like Connacht and win to achieve that. If we are off the money and get into an arm wrestle it could be a long night.”

ULSTER SQUAD (Forwards): C Henry, C Black, R Best, R Diack, D Tuohy, L Stevenson, D Fitzpatrick, N Williams, R Herring, J Afoa, R Lutton, T Court, I Henderson, J Muller.

Backs: R Pienaar, J Payne, P Jackson, P Marshall, P Nelson, T Bowe, A Trimble, M Allen, A D’Arcy, S Olding, D Cave.

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