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Pro12: Diack named at the heart of patched-up Ulster pack

Robbie Diack has been drafted into the second row as Mark Anscombe sees his resources stretched by injury and internationals.

Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd

ULSTER COACH MARK Anscombe has made five changes from the northern province’s 45-20 win over Edinburgh a fortnight ago for Sunday’s re-arranged fixture against Zebre in Parma.

The original scheduling of this game was for mid-September, but the league allowed the postponement owing to the tragic death of Ulster’s young centre, Nevin Spence.

Now, with the rest of the Pro12 sides out of league action until next week, Anscombe’s group has been depleted not only through international call-ups, but by injuries in the second row.

With half-backs Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar all set to play a significant role for their country Ulster will start against the Italian side with Niall O’Connor and Michael Heaney steering the ship.

Release

The absence of captain Johann Muller and Lewis Stevenson through injury means Neil McComb is the only available senior lock in Newforge. He will be partnered in the engine room by Robbie Diack, ordinarily a back-row.

Declan Fitzpatrick, Tom Court and Roger Wilson have been released by Ireland for the trip to Italy, but only the former will start in the back row where he will be flanked by Nick Williams and Mike McComish.

Crucially, Anscombe has been able to keep key departments strong. The potent back row will be complimented by an unchanged front row with Nigel Brady retaining the captaincy. The midfield is also full of experience with Paddy Wallace again partnered by Jared Payne, one of the stars of the season so far.

Of the many products of the Ulster academy in the match-day squad, back-row Ali Birch is in line to make his first appearance of the season.

Ulster v Zebre: R Andrew; M Allen, J Payne, P Wallace, C Cochrane; N O’Connor, M Heaney; C Black, N Brady (capt), J Afoa, R Diack, N McComb, N Williams, M McComish, R Wilson.

Replacements: R Herring, T Court, D Fitzpatrick, J Simpson, A Birch, B McIlroy, S Olding, P Nelson.

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Sean Farrell

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