12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
OSPREYS (9th) v ULSTER (7th), Liberty Stadium, 6.30pm (live S4C)
Team News: Mark Anscombe has continued to rotate his Ulster squad with Declan Fitzpatrick, Niall O'Connor and Darren Cave all coming into the team for the RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Ospreys in Swansea on Saturday.
The Ulster head coach has also been boosted by the return of Ireland internationals Andrew Trimble and Stephen Ferris, who have been named on a vastly-experienced replacements bench.
The only change up front sees Fitzpatrick replace John Afoa in the front row where he is joined by hooker Rob Herring and Callum Black.
Team captain Johann Muller and Lewis Stevenson continue their partnership in the second row, while new back rowers Sean Doyle and Nick Williams will be hoping to maintain their impressive form from last weekend.
In a late enforced switch, Robbie Diack has been withdrawn from the team after aggravating a dead leg suffered in the win over Glasgow Warriors. His position at blindside flanker will be taken by Mike McComish who will win his 10th cap for the province.
With Paddy Jackson still not fully recovered from his calf injury, O'Connor will start at out-half with Michael Heaney retaining the number 9 jersey.
Cave has been promoted from the bench to start at outside centre at the expense of Chris Farrell. Luke Marshall, Michael Allen, Craig Gilroy and Jared Payne complete the starting back-line.
Meanwhile, Ospreys boss Steve Tandy has made four changes to the team that lost their league opener 12-6 to Benetton Treviso.
Dan Biggar is benched as he makes way for Matthew Morgan's inclusion at out-half, with Rhys Webb getting the nod over Kahn Fotuali'i at scrum half.
The experienced Ian Gough returns in the second row to take over from Ian Evans, who was sent-off in the first half against Treviso, while Justin Tipuric joins James King and number 8 Jonathan Thomas in the back row.
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Tom Isaacs; Matthew Morgan, Rhys Webb; Ryan Bevington, Richard Hibbard, Aaron Jarvis, Ian Gough, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), James King, Justin Tipuric, Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Scott Baldwin, Duncan Jones, Joe Rees, George Stowers, Joe Bearman, Kahn Fotuali'i, Dan Biggar, Tom Grabham.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen; Niall O'Connor, Michael Heaney; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Sean Doyle, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, John Afoa, Neil McComb, Stephen Ferris, Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Trimble.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Phil Fear (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 3/10; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 23/10
Pre-Match Quotes: Mark Anscombe (Ulster) - "When you bring players of that calibre back into the mix it gives everyone a lift. The two boys (Andrew Trimble and Stephen Ferris) haven't played much rugby in a while so you have to put that in perspective and not expect too much from them this early. Putting them on the bench is a good way of easing them back in.
"With Paddy Jackson it was a precaution with his calf, he's not 100% but he's feeling much better than he was and he's progressing well. It wasn't worth the risk and we wanted to give Niall another chance to show what he can do.
"Darren Cave was on the bench last week, he's been training with the team now for a few weeks and I thought he came on for the last quarter of an hour last week and added greatly to the team.
"He's an international so he brings that experience to a youthful back-line. Declan is the same, he's been training well and we wanted to have a look at him from the start.
"There are a lot of areas to improve on but you would expect that and the main thing is that we're progressing.
"Over the next few weeks we'll keep integrating players back into the team and that will allow us to keep developing and growing our game. It's early days and we've just got to keep our feet on the ground and know where we're at."
Gruff Rees (Ospreys) - "It's going to be a tough game against a quality team that has really grown over the last couple of years as seen by their Heineken Cup run last season that saw them go all the way to the final.
"Brian McLaughlin did a great job and Mark Anscombe, their new coach, is looking to really build on that this year with some quality signings to enhance an already strong squad.
"For us it's a great game to kick off at home and we'll be expecting a big crowd on a lovely evening so it should be great occasion. We'll want to do well, to make sure we send all our season ticket holders home happy, but in order to do that we'll have to make big improvements to our discipline and our attention to details from where we were last Friday in Treviso.
"We need to tighten up and find a little bit more composure, while keeping the right balance to ensure that we are always in control of ourselves. That's an area where we let ourselves down in the first half last time.
"We've made a few changes for this game, changes we were always going to make in order to allow players to have a fair chance to stake a claim for a place in the opening weeks of the season.
"It's up to those coming in to put their hands up now and show that they deserve a chance to retain the jersey, but what it will do is help to ensure everything stays competitive."
Top Scorers - 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Ospreys - Points: Dan Biggar 6; Tries: -; Ulster - Points: Niall O'Connor 8; Tries: Michael Allen, Craig Gilroy 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 12, 2009 - Ospreys 16 Ulster 20, Liberty Stadium
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - Ulster 27 Ospreys 38, Ravenhill
Friday, September 3, 2010 - Ulster 27 Ospreys 26, Ravenhill
Sunday, February 13, 2011 - Ospreys 23 Ulster 22, Liberty Stadium
Sunday, September 25, 2011 - Ospreys 32 Ulster 14, Liberty Stadium
Friday, February 24, 2012 - Ulster 15 Ospreys 14, Ravenhill
- The Ospreys' seven-match winning streak in the RaboDirect PRO12 ended in Italy last Friday, with their 12-6 reversal to Benetton Treviso
- The Ospreys have won their last three matches at the Liberty Stadium and lost only once to an Irish province last season, going down 15-14 to Ulster at Ravenhill in February
- Ulster began the new season with an 18-10 victory over Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill, but have tripped up in their last two away games in the RaboDirect PRO12, at Connacht and Munster
- The Ulstermen have won three of their last four encounters with Welsh regions, but have lost on their last four visits to the Principality
- The last four fixtures between these two teams have all been won by the home side on the day. Ulster's only victory at the Liberty Stadium since 2006 was a 20-16 triumph in September 2009
|4/10/13||Ospreys||12 - 18||Ulster Rugby||10,049|
|8/2/13||Ulster Rugby||12 - 16||Ospreys||10,886|
|8/9/12||Ospreys||13 - 16||Ulster Rugby||8,566|