18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
ULSTER (3rd) v MUNSTER (2nd), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTÉ Two)
Team News: Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made seven changes to the starting line-up for the visit of Munster to Ravenhill on Friday night.
Stephen Ferris has been named at blindside flanker and will earn his 100th cap for the province. Elsewhere in the pack, Tom Court, John Afoa and Nigel Brady will start in the front row, replacing Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick and Rob Herring respectively.
In the backs, Andrew Trimble has been promoted to the right wing, replacing Craig Gilroy. Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson, who were also on the bench for last weekend's Ospreys game, will combine at half-back in place of Michael Heaney and Niall O'Connor.
Ireland internationals Chris Henry and Dan Tuohy have not been included in the matchday squad despite being named in the extended squad on Tuesday.
The two will instead get a run-out for Ulster Ravens against Munster 'A' earlier on Friday afternoon at Deramore Park (kick-off 3pm).
Commenting on the two forwards, Anscombe said: "It's important for us to get them some game-time so the Ravens is a good start. Chris has only been training with the team for two weeks and has had very little contact.
"He hasn't played a lot of rugby since the Heineken Cup final. He went to New Zealand (on Ireland's summer tour) but only got a few minutes.
"It's a long season and the guys in their positions have been doing a good job, so it's a balance of getting them back up to speed and rewarding the players who have been doing the job for us."
The New Zealander again stressed that players showing good form will be picked, and used Nigel Brady's selection at hooker as an example.
"Rob Herring has done well, he's a young guy learning his trade at hooker and we are happy with the way he's progressing but Nigel came on last week and his experience came through.
"His scrummaging was outstanding and he contributed around the park and that's what we want. It's a matter of keeping everyone accountable for their performance and Nigel took his chance last week and has been rewarded."
Anscombe was full of praise for the travelling Munster side, stating: "It's our first derby of the season and there's a lot of history between the two teams so it should be a great occasion.
"They will be the best team we've played against so far this year and their history shows what they're capable of doing. There's no prouder union in the competition than Munster and there's never going to be an easy game against them so we need to perform to our capabilities to come away with a win.
"I'm really hoping that we get a big home crowd out to support us and I really want us to get a victory," he added.
Over 9,500 tickets have been sold but there is still availability in some areas of the ground. The terrace is sold out but tickets are still available in the Grandstand and Promenade. Call 02890493222 or visit www.ulsterrugby.com for details.
Meanwhile, Munster head coach Rob Penney has named his team and replacements to play Ulster in Friday's RaboDirect PRO12 interprovincial derby.
With no change to the Munster back-line, David Foley makes way for the return of Donncha O'Callaghan in the second row and David Kilcoyne and BJ Botha join Damien Varley in the front row.
Returning Ireland internationals Conor Murray, Ronan O'Gara and Keith Earls will start from the replacements bench, with scrum half Murray obviously eager to make his seasonal bow for the province.
"It's been a bit frustrating these last few weeks, watching the lads playing so well. I'm just itching to go so hopefully I'll get off the bench this weekend and get a bit of a run-out, get a few of the old cobwebs out," he said.
The 23-year-old is warming to Penney's approach to the game and the tactics employed, excited by the potential of this new-look Munster regime which has enjoyed two opening league wins.
"Rob's running a different style of play and the lads have adapted well. We've seen glimpses of it in the last few games, it is very promising.
"But we're still getting to grips with it, finishing off little bits of it. It is exciting and I can't wait to get involved and see how I fare.
"A lot of us haven't played the style Rob's brought in, so with it being completely new to a lot of players there will be mistakes.
"But definitely, in the games we've been watching in pre-season and the two PRO12 matches so far, there have been glimpses that it will work, there will be space there and it can be very exciting.
"It is frustrating but that's going to come, we have to bear it and get on with it and hopefully it will flourish soon," he added.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Lewis Stevenson, Stephen Ferris, Sean Doyle, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Michael Heaney, Peter Nelson, Craig Gilroy.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett (capt), Casey Laulala, James Downey, Luke O'Dea; Ian Keatley, Duncan Williams; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, Donncha O'Callaghan, Billy Holland, David O'Callaghan, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Marcus Horan, Stephen Archer, David Foley, Tommy O'Donnell, Conor Murray, Ronan O'Gara, Keith Earls.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Kevin Beggs (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/9; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 7/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Stephen Ferris (Ulster) - "It's been really good. A lot of people were disappointed that Brian McLaughlin was let go by Ulster Rugby but he's not actually, he's in our Academy system so he's still involved very much.
"Mark Anscombe came over from New Zealand. A lot of people didn't know about him but he's been coaching a long time. He's done a great job with the New Zealand Under-20s over the last number of years.
"He's just tweaked a few things here and there. Nothing too much has changed from last year and why should it have done, because we had such a good season. He's just added a bit of his knowledge to try make us better rugby players and a better team.
"In pre-season there's been a lot more contact and I think that has shown in the pre-season games. In years gone by, we were using those games to get up to speed whereas this year we wanted to win them. We're still unbeaten this year, which is great.
"We call (Anscombe) 'the Cowboy'. He's so relaxed and laid back. I'm sure there is pressure there because we've done well last season but he doesn't show it at all.
"Munster have changed their game-plan this year, they seem to be playing with a lot more width, a lot more dynamic ball carriers.
"They don't seem to be just running around the corner, running into brick walls all day, trying to physically beat you up before they break you down. They seem to be a lot smarter, a lot cuter."
Casey Laulala (Munster) - "Rob (Penney) and Simon (Mannix) have made it clear that they'll do whatever is best for the team and it's the team that comes first. So, if that is to have me and James (Downey) in the middle then obviously that's how they see it.
"Earlsy is so talented and then there's the younger boys so it's a good healthy relationship. If somebody comes in, I'll give them my full support and hopefully vice versa, that they'd do the same for me.
"I just make sure that I get myself ready so that whenever I get a chance to play, I'll play. Obviously the priority is for the Irish boys to get exposure but I've been around long enough that hopefully I can pass on something different and help the boys out. I'm happy with how it's going so far.
"I know what it's like playing there (at Ravenhill), for Cardiff, and it's going to be tough, more so now it's a derby and there's obviously a bit of a thing going on from last year in terms of the (Heineken Cup) play-offs.
"So it's going to be tough but the boys have prepared well and hopefully we'll do our job. It's a totally different atmosphere and chemistry this year.
"Obviously the Munster boys that were involved, they've got something to prove but other than that, we like to focus on what's important and that's to execute our game-plan and bring our physicality. They're so physical up there, I think they do intimidate teams with that physicality."
Top Scorers - 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster - Points: Niall O'Connor 11; Tries: Michael Allen, Craig Gilroy, Paul Marshall 1 each; Munster - Points: Ian Keatley 32; Tries: Ian Keatley, Luke O'Dea, Doug Howlett 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, October 31, 2009 - Munster 24 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Saturday, January 2, 2010 - Ulster 15 Munster 10, Ravenhill
Friday, October 29, 2010 - Ulster 6 Munster 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 1, 2011 - Munster 35 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
Friday, December 30, 2011 - Ulster 33 Munster 17, Ravenhill
Saturday, May 5, 2012 - Munster 36 Ulster 8, Thomond Park
- Ulster have made the perfect start to the RaboDirect PRO12 campaign with back-to-back wins over Glasgow Warriors and the Ospreys
- The Ulstermen's only reversal at Ravenhill since last September was a 16-8 loss to Leinster in April. Ulster have lost their last four encounters with fellow Irish provinces
- Munster have, for the third season running, also started with successive RaboDirect PRO12 victories, against Edinburgh and Benetton Treviso
- Ulster have won just one of their last four fixtures with the Munstermen in the league, but did knock their rivals out of the Heineken Cup at the quarter-final stage in April
- Munster's only victory at Ravenhill since 2007 was a 16-6 success back in October 2010
|29/12/12||Munster Rugby||24 - 10||Ulster Rugby||23,587|
|14/9/12||Ulster Rugby||20 - 19||Munster Rugby||10,397|
|5/5/12||Munster Rugby||36 - 8||Ulster Rugby||19,362|