With Irish duo Bundee Aki and Jack Carty currently on a two-week mandatory lay-off, as well as three players undergoing the return to play protocols for HIA’s and 12 further squad members injured Friend has admitted that they haven’t even been able to put 30 men through training this week.
“We had 28 today but that was with four academy boys and two other fellas who we have got here training. We are skinny. It’s not ideal but when we travelled to South Africa we travelled with 26 players. Whenever we are under 30 I just say ‘imagine we’re in South Africa’, because we had two wins over there against the Kings and Cheetahs,” he said while speaking to the42.
However, there is a possibility that prop Paddy McAllister may be involved after his citing for a dangerous tackle during last weekend’s loss to Ulster was dismissed.
He is currently under return to play procedure for a head injury, but if he comes through he should be able to play and speaking on the decision to dismiss his citing Friend believes it is not only good for Connacht but for the sport.
“I think it’s brilliant news. I think it’s great for Paddy and for Connacht, but I think it’s actually good for rugby. I totally get that we need to protect the player, but we play a collision sport where accidents do happen. You can’t have two big guys running into each other, trying to hit each other with their heads. There is no future in that. But sometimes you get collisions when that just happens,” he added.
He went on to defend McAllister and claimed that the player himself was upset over the possibility of people thinking that he had deliberately fouled Marcell Coetzee.
“I know Paddy was really remorseful for what happened and I know he spoke to Marcell post-game. He was disappointed that people were thinking that it was a deliberate act because that’s not Paddy McAllister. He’s a hell of a man, a gentleman in his own right. He is not a foul player. He was gutted that people were thinking that was deliberate. But there was a lot of work behind the scenes put in on his behalf,” he finished up.
Friend will be hoping that McAllister will be available for selection come Saturday as his team take on the current PRO14 Conference A leaders, who have been in rampant form so far this season and can produce results even with a weakened team as they proved last weekend away to Munster.
Ulster ring the changes for Munster
There are nine changes to the side that travelled to Leicester last Friday. In the back three, Jacob Stockdale and Ethan McIlroy are retained at full-back and left-wing respectively, with Rob Lyttle coming in to start on the right. Will Addison will make his first start this season at outside centre, partnering up with Stuart McCloskey. Michael Lowry and Alby Mathewson will form the starting half-back partnership.
It’s all-change in the front row, with Andrew Warwick and Tom O’Toole getting the nod at loosehead and tighthead prop, and John Andrew named at hooker. Last week’s second row pairing of Alan O’Connor and Iain Henderson has been retained, and Henderson will lead the side. In the back row, Marcus Rea is named to start at openside flanker with Jordi Murphy making the switch to blindside, and David McCann is selected at Number Eight.
Angus Curtis makes a long-awaited return to the Ulster match-day squad for the first time since he sustained a serious knee injury in December 2019, and is named among the replacements. He is joined by David Shanahan and James Hume in providing back line cover. Wallaby lock Sam Carter is also set for his return to action, and he joins Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore and Nick Timoney as the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Munster Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 2, Friday 7 May at Thomond Park (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Rob Lyttle, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Michael Lowry, Alby Mathewson;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Jordi Murphy, Marcus Rea, David McCann.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, James Hume.
Huge boost for Ulster as Henderson & Addison return
Iain Henderson makes his return to lead the side and will be partnered by Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead prop, with Tom O’Toole at tighthead and Rob Herring selected to start at hooker. In the back row, Matty Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Sean Reidy at openside, and Nick Timoney completing the pack at Number Eight.
Jacob Stockdale makes a positional switch to full-back, and will be joined by Ethan McIlroy and Robert Baloucoune in the back three. Stewart Moore will form the midfield partnership with James Hume, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are named as the starting half-backs.
Will Addison is set to make his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines as he is named among the Ulster back line replacements alongside David Shanahan and Michael Lowry. John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Greg Jones are the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Connacht Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 1, Friday 23 April at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.
Munster confirm Zebo signing
This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.
In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”