ULSTER have been given a boost for their first outing since being dumped out of the Investec Champions Cup by the return of Ireland internationals Iain Henderson, Nick Timoney, Tom Stewart and Jacob Stockdale for the trip to Swansea on Sunday afternoon to face the Ospreys.
Skipper Henderson is the only one of the quartet to have got any game-time in the Six Nations, coming off the bench against Italy on Sunday.
All four trained at Kingspan Stadium yesterday afternoon, with assistant coach Dan Soper confirming they are all available for the trip to Wales.
“We’ve a few guys back and we’ll see how they go, we’ll sit down after training on Wednesday and pick a team for the weekend that we think best suits our needs this weekend.,” stated Soper.
“They’re great guys and we love having them about.”
“They’re bringing back an energy that is around the Irish squad at the moment, we’re tapping into that and finding out what they’re doing down there and if there’s any wee things we can pick up on.”
“That’s really important for us, that’s how you keep continuing to grow.”
“It’s great to see them and see the energy they’ve come back with, if we pick some of them, they’ll bring an energy for us.”
No Ulster-born players featured against France in the Six Nations opener which was the first time in Ireland’s history that has ever happened.
Soper believes it was down to a combination of Ireland playing so well and the province’s poor results against Toulouse and Harlequins.
“It was disappointing. We want to see our guys there, but at the moment the Irish team is the most competitive and most difficult team to get into in the world.”
“You just look at the form they are in at the moment, you look at the guys that have the shirts and they are doing remarkably well.”
“It was great to see some of our guys being involved at the weekend (Italy), Stu (Stuart McCloskey) starting, and I thought he was excellent.”
“That is where Ireland are at, they just have a lot of excellent rugby players and unfortunately for Ulster we have a few guys who are second choice in a few spots and hopefully we can push a few guys through in the future.”
“Ireland are such a strong team at the moment, and they are difficult to break into and the results are showing that.”
“I hope that I can push guys through, and we can have more guys in the squad for the Six Nations and hope that they can take their opportunity.”
“We are working hard to help those guys and they are working hard but at the end of the day it is a really strong Irish team.”
Out of the Champions Cup and fifth at the halfway stage in the URC, Soper feels Ulster can have a strong finish to the season.
“We have got performance markers that we are going after, we have got parts of our game that are going really well, we are in a good position in the league, we could be better and we will certainly be going after the second half of the season to climb that league and get into that home play-off position.”
“That is our target, there were obvious disappointments with our performances in Europe, we have to live with that, but we have to move on as a well.”
“We have taken our learning from the first half of the season, we have got some areas that are going really well and some areas that we know if we are going to be a top-four team we need to improve and we feel we have a good handle on that.”
BKT United Rugby Championship round 10
Friday, February 16 (7.35pm) Scarlets v Munster; Zebre v Edinburgh
Saturday, February 17 Lions v Bulls (1pm); Leinster v Benetton (3pm); Sharks v Stormers (3.05pm); Cardiff v Connacht (5.15pm); Glasgow v Dragons (7.35pm)
Sunday, February 18 Ospreys v Ulster (3pm)