Fledgling international star Jacob Stockdale will be back in Ulster’s colours when the next stage of the Champions Cup gets underway for Les Kiss’s side on Sunday when they face in-form Harlequins at The Stoop.
Stockdale, who is scoring for fun again this season including a double against Argentina last month, will be in the starting line-up along with Iain Henderson, Stuart McCloskey, and skipper Rory Best. Also back for Ulster to bolster a shaky scrum is tight-head Wiehahn Herbst, but Kyle McCall is still an absentee as is Jean Deysel and Rodney Ah You.
While Jared Payne is again missing, Kiss said there were positive vibes that the Ireland international is coming close to fitness again following nerve damage in his neck. “Jared getting closer and closer some really positive signs over the past week or two . So that’s moving in the right direction he’s training really well doing contact work. We’ll just see where we get to, but he’s not available this week,” said Kiss.
The Ulster boss must be worried at the lack of scrum dominance and a colander-like defence, particularly given how Harlequins ripped through European champions Saracens in the Aviva Premiership last weekend.
“No doubt we would love to see some improvement in those areas a little bit more than we have,” said Kiss. “I think in the last three games, the set piece has failed us at different times. What does that mean? Does it mean you will lose the game? We have yielded 11 tries in our last three games, and that should not define the season, we just have to find a way to improve the little things we would like to.”
Meanwhile, as expected, Ireland international Jordi Murphy has switched allegiance from Leinster to Ulster. The 26-year-old back-row forward, who has played 95 times for Leinster, has signed a two-year contract and will transfer to Belfast next June.
Murphy was being touted by a number of clubs, both in England and France, but opted to stay in Ireland, much to the relief of international coach Joe Schmidt. Kiss, who worked with Murphy while Ireland’s defence coach, spoke of his work ethic and how he reacts to pressure.
“One of the things we were looking that resilience of character, and one who knows how to fight when the chips are down as well,” explained Kiss. “That is one of the qualities that Jordi has. He has a job to do first this year and we respect what he has to finish off at Leinster and all that. But if we project forward at it and what we looked at when we looked at him he has the character traits we are after.
“He is resilient, his preparation is exceptional that is something that is going to add to our group which is growing in that area. Jordi when he works, he works hard, but away from the game he looks after himself exceptionally well. I am talking a lot of things that are not on the rugby pitch and that is the type of person Jordi is.”
Murphy emphasised that he will be sad to leave his home city but is looking forward to the challenges ahead. “It’s been an incredibly hard decision to leave Leinster where I have made some great friends and enjoyed some fantastic times,” said Murphy, who has made 18 appearances for Ireland. “I am excited now by the prospect of moving north and linking up with some familiar faces,” he added.
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