A NUMBER OF key players are set to boost their province’s playing ranks ahead of this weekend’s Pro12 matches.
With all four provinces playing home matches between 14-16 February, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will release a good chunk of his squad to guarantee them game time. Seven of his 34-man squad lined out for their provinces last weekend and that number is set for a slight increase.
Ulster should benefit most from Schmidt’s benevolence. They face Scarlets on Friday night at Ravenhill and will be hoping to record successive wins against Welsh opposition having stumbled to a 10-7 victory over Ospreys last weekend.
Darren Cave will be given another opportunity to show Schmidt what he can do in the Ulster midfield while Luke Marshall will be vying for a start. Marshall is duking it out with Gordon D’Arcy for the Ireland 12 jersey but the Leinster man will be spared a Valentines Day date with Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS.
Craig Gilroy was released from Ireland’s extended Six Nations squad ahead of the Scotland and Wales games. He told TheScore.ie that Cave, who scored a try from inside centre against Ospreys, is one of many Ulstermen pressing for an Ireland call-up. He said:
Darren took his try very well. It’s super that he can slot in at 12 or 13 and that game was great for his confidence. It’s always a bonus, and another notch in your belt, to prove you can cover multiple positions.”
Iain Henderson came on for the injured Lewis Stevenson, against the Welsh side, at the start of the second half. Ulster coach Mark Anscombe would be eager to have him in the mix again — and he is currently training with his province — but Dan Tuohy’s arm fracture may see him elevated to the Irish bench for the visit to England.
Henderson may face competition for that reserve second row slot, behind Paul O’Connell and Devin Toner, from Munster’s Donnacha Ryan. The lock has returned from injury, is training with his province and in line to feature against Zebre at Musgrave Park on Saturday. Flanker Tommy O’Donnell and fullback Felix Jones have also been released back to Munster for selection.
Leinster will issue a squad update tomorrow following their training session at the RDS. Mike McCarthy and Jordi Murphy played away to Zebre on Sunday and could well be released for the Dragons match. Connacht’s only squad representative Robbie Henshaw should line out against Edinburgh on Saturday.
Wales, meanwhile, have released Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins back for Cardiff Blues’ home game with Glasgow Warriors.
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >