Wallace pumped up to make long-awaited Ravenhill return


Wallace pumped up to make long-awaited Ravenhill return

The 34-year-old Wallace, who has been sidelined for nine months after major reconstruction to his left knee at the end of last season, made a scoring comeback to the game for the Ulster Ravens two weeks ago.

The 30-times capped Wallace is named at inside centre alongside Jared Payne, who moves from full-back in a side that shows a total of nine changes and three positional switches from the side that swamped Treviso last week in Italy.

With Paddy Jackson rested, fly-half James McKinney, who scored 21 points in a man-of-the-match performance against Edinburgh three weeks ago, joins Ruan Pienaar at half-back with Michael Allen coming on to the right wing with Craig Gilroy switching to the left. The talented Ricky Andrew starts at full-back. Up front, with Roger Wilson getting some respite to cure a niggling foot problem, Robbie Diack starts at No 8 with Michael McComish and Sean Doyle on the flanks. Lewis Stevenson has recovered from a knee injury and partners skipper Johann Muller in the engine room. In an all-new front row, Callum Black and tighthead Ricky Lutton shore up former Ireland U21 hooker Niall Annett, who gets a rare competitive start. The promising Lutton will be getting only his second start for Ulster as he deputises for Declan Fitzpatrick, who has a virus, and All Black John Afoa, who has gone home for Christmas.

However, coach Mark Anscombe is not taking the Italian side for granted despite their lowly position in the league and even more since they just managed to scrape a 19-11 victory two weeks ago. Zebre have not won a game since defeating Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park back in September.

“It’s another big block of fixtures,” said Anscombe. “We knew at the start of the year that the Christmas period was going to be a defining part of the campaign for us. The thing is that we need to be really careful. We play four big teams that have been successful in Europe and you could be tempted to look too far ahead. All of a sudden Zebre slip into town, you underestimate them and they do a job on you.”

Wallace, meanwhile, is just so happy to get back out on the park.

“My motivation is through the roof,” said Wallace, who still has to apply an ice pack to the leg at the end of each training session to contain any swelling.

“I hope that I can bring a few players along with me because I am so pumped up to play again at Ravenhill.

“So many people have supported me through a hard time such as the medical staff and the strength and conditioning coaches and I want to do their support justice.”

ULSTER: R Andrew: C Gilroy, J Payne, P Wallace, M Allen; J McKinney, R Pienaar; C Black, N Annett, R Lutton, J Muller (Captain), L Stevenson, M McComish, S Doyle, R Diack. Replacements: R Herring, T Court, A Macklin, N McComb, C Joyce, M Heaney, P Nelson, D McIlwaine.

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