O’Connor gets chance to lift Ulster

NIALL O’CONNOR gets a chance to redeem himself for Ulster after being named at fly-half in place of Ian Humphreys for tonight’s Magners League clash against the Ospreys at Ravenhill.

O’Connor, along with Bryan Young and Robbie Diak, have been recalled by coach Matt Williams, who has moved number eight Chris Henry to blindside flanker in place of Matt McCullough.

The changes come after Ulster were swept aside by Leinster last week.

O’Connor was usurped by Humphreys before Christmas and has been virtually out of the loop since. A fine kicker, the Belfast Harlequins number 10 is not a runner in the same vein as Humphreys, whose defensive display against Leinster did not inspire.

Young will be making his first competitive start this season in the front-row alongside skipper Rory Best and World Cup winner BJ Botha.

The big Springbok tight-head, who has helped steady Ulster’s set-pieces this season, believes they can bounce back from the Leinster defeat.

“Preparations went well during the previous week and we felt we were ready for the Leinster challenge. In the first half we did very well, but failed to take our chances. We certainly should have taken some points away before falling away.

“But we are not out of it. The Magners League is so tight at present and while Munster appear to be pulling away a little, the rest are there or thereabouts,” said Botha, who knows the visit of the Welsh side will not be easy.

“Ospreys are a quality side with quality players as they showed earlier this season when they easily beat us in Swansea. We have to prepared better and we have the right mental attitude to take them on and beat them.

“I believe the visit of the Welsh side will give the younger boys in the side a bit of a fillip. Mentally it will pick them up. They don’t necessarily want to face their equals, they want to meet the best, and in the Ospreys’ team there are some magnificent international players.

“That will give our boys the chance to play against the best. That’s what the game is all about measuring yourself against these players and attempting to raise your standard. There is no better pick-me-up than that.

“Victory will put us back into the mix again and hopefully finish the season on a high.”

The Ospreys, however, will not be travelling with former Ulster and now Grand Slam hero Tommy Bowe.

ULSTER: C Schifcofske; S Danielli, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; N O’Connor, I Boss; B Young, R Best (capt), BJ Botha, E O’Donoghue, R Caldwell, C Henry, D Pollock, R Diack.

Replacements: N Brady, T Court, C Del Fava, M McCullough, C Willis, I Whitten, T Nagusa.

OSPREYS: G Owen; D Bishop, J Spratt, A Bishop, J Vaughton; J Hook, M Phillips; P James (capt), H Bennett, C Griffiths, A Wyn Jones, A Lloyd, T Smith, S Tandy, F Tiatia.

Replacements: R Hibbard, R Bevington, F Levi, M Holah, J Nutbrown, D Biggar, S Parker.


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