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Dublin: 9°C Friday 7 May 2021

Coetzee absence makes Cooney and McCloskey returns timely for Ulster

Dan McFarland’s men are away to Cardiff Blues in the Pro14 this evening.

McCloskey hasn't played for Ulster since September.
McCloskey hasn't played for Ulster since September.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

MOMENTUM-SHIFTING TURNOVERS, eye-catching offloads, relentlessly aggressive ball-carrying – Marcell Coetzee tends to deliver time and time again for Ulster.

He is undoubtedly the talisman of Dan McFarland’s team and would make a strong addition to virtually any back row in the game.

So it’s no real surprise that Ulster tend to miss Coetzee badly when he’s absent, as for the recent Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Toulouse, where the number eight’s all-action impact would be been very helpful.

This evening at Rodney Parade, Ulster are again without the South African, who hasn’t been named in their matchday 23 for the Guinness Pro14 clash with Cardiff Blues [KO 6pm].

The returns of scrum-half John Cooney and inside centre Stuart McCloskey – two other totems of this Ulster team – from Ireland camp are timely in that regard. Neither of them were involved in Paris on Saturday night so are back on provincial duty with a point to prove to Andy Farrell. McCloskey last played in September due to an elbow injury.

Furthermore, McFarland will be happy to welcome out-half Billy Burns back into his starting XV this evening, with the 26-year-old resuming the captaincy after his recovery from injury and with club captain Iain Henderson still suspended.

The boosts continue on the bench with influential centre Luke Marshall’s first involvement since the restart of rugby in August. His absence has allowed James Hume and Stewart Moore to get game time, but Marshall’s calm influence will be important as he gets back up and running in the coming weeks.

All in all, Ulster have welcomed back some important senior figure but Coetzee’s absence in the back row will have to be accounted for.

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The hard-working, mobile Nick Timoney starts in the number eight shirt, while Ireland international Jordi Murphy is at openside and Matty Rea – set for his 50th Ulster cap – is at blindside. This would be the perfect occasion for 27-year-old Rea, who is capable of real dynamism, to show he is maturing into the kind of player who bosses games.

louis-ludik-celebrates-scoring-a-try Ulster are three from three so far this season. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

Collectively, Ulster will look for more of the clinical edge they showed in the first half against Dragons in Belfast last weekend, rather than the frustrating, error-strewn display they delivered in the second half.

Cardiff Blues, meanwhile, have made two changes after their absorbing defeat away to Munster last Monday, with head coach John Mulvihill bringing the hard-working Josh Turnbull and jackal threat Will Boyde into his back row.

As Ulster look to make it four wins from four to start this 2020/21 season, McFarland needs his men to ensure Coetzee’s absence isn’t too apparent.

Cardiff Blues:

15. Matthew Morgan
14. Aled Summerhill
13. Rey Lee-Lo
12. Willis Halaholo
11. Hallam Amos
10. Jarrod Evans
9. Lewis Jones

1. Corey Domachowski
2. Kristian Dacey (captain)
3. Dmitri Arhip
4. James Ratti
5. Rory Thornton
6. Josh Turnbull
7. James Botham
8. Will Boyde


16. Ethan Lewis
17. Brad Thyer
18. Scott Andrews
19. Ben Murphy
20. Olly Robinson
21. Jamie Hill
22. Jason Tovey
23. Garyn Smith


15. Michael Lowry
14. Craig Gilroy
13. Stewart Moore
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Louis Ludik
10. Billy Burns (captain)
9. John Cooney

1. Eric O’Sullivan
2. Adam McBurney
3. Marty Moore
4. Alan O’Connor
5. Kieran Treadwell
6. Matty Rea
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Nick Timoney


16. John Andrew
17. Jack McGrath
18. Ross Kane
19. Sam Carter
20. Sean Reidy
21. Alby Mathewson
22. Luke Marshall
23. Ethan McIlroy 

Referee: Sam Grove-White [SRU]. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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