Rory Best and Jared Payne back for Ulster clash with Glasgow
ULSTER will attempt to save their best to last when they tackle Glasgow Warriors in the PRO12 on Friday night - something they have failed to achieve in recent meetings with the 2015 champions at Scotstoun.
Ireland hooker and captain Rory Best and Jared Payne will return to the squad for the first time this season and both are likely to be introduced from the replacements bench in the second-half of the game. That is due to the fact they haven't played since Ireland's tour to South Africa in June and, therefore, are short of match practice. But their introduction in the latter stages of the game, it is hoped, will help Ulster finish strongly and produce the 80-minute display that has been lacking this season and in recent trips to Glasgow.
Last season, Ulster led for an hour, but lost 27-17 at Scotstoun and, in the regulation season in 2015, Glasgow scored four second-half tries to win 32-10 after trailing by four points at the interval. Six days later, Ulster led 14-9 in the PRO12 semi-final with five minutes left, only to lose 16-14.
Only last week, Ulster played some scintillating rugby in the first-half against the Scarlets, but they had to settle for an 11-0 interval lead before Iain Henderson's try with the last play of the game sealed a nervy 19-8 victory.
Ulster's analyst and skills coach Niall Malone doesn't need to resort to video evidence or complicated statistics to illustrate what has been clear to the naked eye: "For 60 minutes, we're usually quite competitive [against Glasgow] and we've often been in the lead at the hour mark and in the last 20 - either they've surged on or we've played less well and let them back into it," said the former Ulster and Ireland fly-half.
"Our record over there is quite poor recently, losing five out of five but, if we'd been losing from start-to-finish, it would be more daunting, we just feel we need to maintain this first hour that we've been producing and then finish it off."
The 'second-half syndrome' has continued this season, when Ulster failed to put Treviso and the Scarlets away after impressive first-half displays: "At the weekend, we came up at half-time delighted at how we'd played, except for the scoreboard, so we're conscious that the second-halves are the time we win games," Malone added.
"Glasgow are probably the best team we'll have played this season so far so, if we play poorly in the second-half, we're going to struggle. But we've got three [wins] from three, so we're quite confident, we're not frightened of it and we've quite a strong 23 this week. The bench will be particularly strong, so we want to finish with our best team on the pitch rather than starting with it and taking them off."
"Jared has been training, so we're hoping he'll play. Rory's ready, but Rob [Herring] has been playing exceptionally well at hooker. So we'll probably start with Rory on the bench, that is a reason get him on and get him a good portion of the second-half to help us finish strongly."
Missing though are backs Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall, who picked up knocks in the Scarlets game, while Andrew Trimble will not be risked due to a minor toe injury.