Ulster look to Humphreys to outwit Edinburgh

Wily outside-half can dictate play in Celtic Cup final today as former Wales coach wins the vote to take charge of New Zealand
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The Independent Online

Frank Hadden could not disguise his delight when the Ulster line-up for today's inaugural Celtic Cup final at Murrayfield was read out to him and Ryan Constable's name was missing from the list. "Good," the Edinburgh coach said, with the greatest of respect and with more than good reason.

Two months ago, Constable plundered a hat-trick of tries across the other side of the Scottish capital, at Meadowbank, as Ulster pummelled Edinburgh 41-3 in the Celtic League. A shoulder injury has ruled the in-form centre out of a return to Murrayfield, where he played alongside David Campese, Willie Ofahengaue and Michael Lynagh in the Australian team beaten by England in the final of another innovative competition, the World Cup Sevens, in 1993.

"I've always had the highest regard for him," Hadden said of the former Saracen, who tops the Celtic League try-scoring chart. "He's an exceptional talent."

The same can be said of David Humphreys and, unfortunately for Edinburgh, the wily outside-half has been freed to dictate operations for Ulster this afternoon after some prevarication about him being required to attend an Irish squad training camp in Lanzarote instead.

Humphreys has happy memories of Murrayfield, having guided Ireland to their first win there since 1985 with a 26-point contribution and a wonderfully assured all-round performance in their 36-6 success in the Six Nations' in February. He returns with an Ulster team in rude health, heading the Celtic League table and fresh from a rousing 22-20 Heineken Cup win against Stade Français at Ravenhill eight days ago.

Edinburgh, though, are riding the crest of the revivalist wave sweeping through Scottish rugby. The team thumped by Ulster in October have been transformed by the return of key players from World Cup duty: Chris Paterson, Simon Taylor, Scott Murray, Nathan Hines and Mike Blair.

The Gunners are on a record winning run of five matches, which includes the prized scalp of Toulouse, the Heineken Cup holders. If Ulster are scenting a trophy to bridge the gap to their Heineken Cup-winning heroics of 1999, Edinburgh are hungry for a first taste of silverware. "We have to bring home some silverware," Hadden said. "And we have to play well. We've played very well indeed for a long time now and we need people to appreciate that."

Thanks to some smart marketing on the part of the Scottish Rugby Union and the Celtic League, a crowd approaching the 20,000 mark should be in place to appreciate what is on offer in a contest likely to be won and lost up front.

"The forward battle is going to be crucial for us," Todd Blackadder, Edinburgh's captain and blindside flanker, acknowledged. "Ulster have got a very powerful pack."

Back in his native New Zealand, the inspirational Blackadder led Canterbury to three consecutive Super 12 titles. As from tomorrow, the former All Black captain will be combining his club-playing duties with his new role as Scotland's assistant head coach. He might have been working under Alan Solomons, but the Scottish Rugby Union gave the top job to Matt Williams instead. That will provide the Ulster coach with some personal incentive to make a mark at the home of Scottish rugby this afternoon.

Edinburgh: D Lee; S Webster, M Di Rollo, B Laney, C Joiner; C Paterson, M Blair; A Jacobsen, D Hall, R Mathieson, N Hines, S Murray, T Blackadder (capt), S Cross, S Taylor. Replacements: A Kelly, C Smith, A Kellock, A Hogg, G Burns, A Dickson, H Southwell.

Ulster: P Wallace; J Topping, S Stewart, P Steinmetz, T Howe; D Humphreys, N Doak; R Kempson, M Sexton, S Best, R Frost, M Mustchin, A Ward (capt), R Wilson, N Best. Replacements: P Shields, R Moore, M McCullogh, W Broshnihan, K Campbell, A Larkin, B Cunningham.

Referee: N Williams (Wales).