THERE may have been disappointment for Ulster in Galway last weekend, but they will get back on the inter-pro horse on Friday night when they host Munster in the URC (7.35pm, live on BBC, Viaplay and RTE).
Last weekend’s 22-20 defeat to Connacht was especially disappointing considering they led by 20-3 in the second half before a fightback from the hosts saw them edge home and leaves Ulster seventh in the table.
That game came at a further cost with Will Addison sustaining a hamstring strain I the warm-up, while James Hume, Reuben Crothers and James French all suffered concussive injuries, meaning they now follow Return to Play protocols.
However, Tom Stewart returns this week to captain the side and tighthead prop Greg McGrath makes his first start in front of a home crowd at Kingspan Stadium.
In the second row, Cormac Izuchukwu and Kieran Treadwell start at lock after both missing last weekend’s Connacht trip due to injury.
Marcus Rea returns to the team at openside flanker, while Ireland international, Stuart McCloskey, is straight into the team after having a period of rest following the Rugby World Cup in France.
Jacob Stockdale is back this week after missing out last week, while Rob Herring and club captain, Iain Henderson, return from international duty with Herringset to smash the all-time appearance record, as a call-up from the bench will mark the 230th time he represents Ulster.
“Hopefully some of the guys are returning from head injuries, we have a couple of guys who will miss this week with HIA protocols, but hopefully some back and guys are being assessed," said Ulster's Forwards Coach, Roddy Grant.
"The Ireland international guys are back. They have come back in really keen and really enthusiastic to get back with Ulster. They’ve brought good energy coming back in and are desperate to play."
📣 Team News— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) November 9, 2023
Your Ulster side to take on @Munsterrugby tomorrow! 🔥
✨ Tom Stewart captains the side
☘️ The Ireland boys are back
2️⃣ 3️⃣ 0️⃣ Rob Herring in line to break our appearance record
🎟️ | https://t.co/yBwK8q5bei pic.twitter.com/WJenjS7rXQ
They will need all hands on deck this weekend as they face a Munster side that is unbeaten this year and sits second in the table tanks to last week’s win over the Sharks.
Their last trip to Belfast saw them overturn a 9-0 deficit at the half to snatch a late 15-14 win as Ben Healy crossed for a late try he converted to see the visitors snatch a last-gasp win to add to Ulster's woes during a difficult run of results.
Craig Casey and Jack Crowley featured for Munster for the first time this season on Saturday night, while Jeremy Loughman returns to the side.
They have plenty of threats including exciting winger, Calvin Nash and back-rower, Gavin Coombes.
"We’ve seen their pre-season games, they have gone well in the opening rounds and will welcome their Irish guys back too, they are great players," Grant added.
"They are a good pack, the champions and you don’t get that for nothing. Irregardless o who plays they will have good depth, Munster traditionally have a lot of pride in their pack."
📢 TEAM NEWS | Here is your Munster side to face Ulster tomorrow night in Belfast 🙌— Munster Rugby (@Munsterrugby) November 9, 2023
Fineen Wycherley starts on his 100th appearance & Diarmuid Barron captains Munster for the 1st time 💪
Click the pic for full details.#ULSvMUN #URC #SUAF 🔴
That defeat in Connacht last week stung given the good start that was made.
Still, it is early in the season and there was some progress made despite the result not their way.
"We definitely took some steps forward against Connacht, it was a good collective showing," Grant countered.
"We had good contact in both halves, but made some errors which was frustrating. It’s always a difficult one, we played well in some areas and at some points in the game, we put ourselves in a position to win but we didn’t, it's frustrating that we didn’t.
"We made improvements from the first two rounds but we are disappointed in some areas that we didn’t execute. It turns around quickly though and now we have to be ready for the reigning champions."