Iain Henderson and Chris Henry return to the Ulster side for this evening’s Guinness Pro 12 game at Cardiff Blues, a match both teams regard as critical to relaunching their seasons.
Henderson has recovered from the shoulder injury picked up in Ireland’s win over Australia last weekend, and he’ll complete an all-international back-row as Les Kiss fields what appears to be his strongest available line-up.
Henry makes his first appearance of the season and, with Sean Reidy locking the scrum, the breakaway unit has a more dynamic look than of late.
Ireland centre Stuart McCloskey is back from a foot fracture to partner Luke Marshall in midfield, and with Tommy Bowe and Craig Gilroy on the wings, and All Black Charles Piutau at full-back, the visitors seem intent on imposing themselves on a fixture they carelessly lost last season.
Jared Payne and Andrew Trimble are sidelined with injuries and Paddy Jackson is rested so Brett Herron is paired with Ruan Pienaar at half-back. Hooker Rob Herring once again leads the side as Rory Best is also forced to sit this game out, and Peter Browne gets the ‘nod’ to join Franco van der Merwe in the second row.
Cardiff coach Danny Wilson makes five changes to the team which went down in Connacht, and he is able to reintegrate his Welsh international contingent and has the bonus of including flanker Sam Warburton and veteran prop Gethin Jenkins. Gareth Anscombe is scheduled for some minor surgery so Steve Shingler takes the No. 10 shirt.
Ulster centre Luke Marshall says spirits have been raised by the return of long-term absentees, and though conscious that Cardiff has access to its Welsh players he believes the visitors can outmuscle and outplay a Cardiff team which, like Ulster, is in a worrying mid-season dip.
Each started the Guinness Pro 12 season with a string of victories, and thenlost both form and a degree of confidence, and what might have been a top-of-the-table battle is now a game where a win would steady the ship and keep the Top Four within sight.
“Not playing last week was frustrating, but we’ve dealt with that and Iain is available and that is huge, while it’s brilliant that Chris Henry is making his first appearance of the season. He brings quality to the breakdown, but he also brings massive leadership,” said Marshall.
C Piutau; T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; B Herron, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Herring (capt), W Herbst; P Browne, F van der Merwe; I Henderson, S Reidy, C Henry.
J Andrew, A Warwick, R Ah You, K Treadwell, C Ross, P Marshall, L Ludik, D Cave
B Scully; A Cuthbert, R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, T James; S Shingler, L Williams; G Jenkins (capt), K Dacey, T Filese; G Earle, J Turnbull; E Jenkins, J Navidi, S Warburton.
M Rees, R Gill, S Andrews, J Hoeata, M Cook, T Williams, N Robinson, M Morgan.
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