Ulster will have to do something they have never done on Friday night if they are to lift themselves off the bottom of the Magners League table. That is win a league game at Stradey Park.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, October 12
LLANELLI SCARLETS v ULSTER, Stradey Park, 7.10pm (live BBC Wales/Setanta Sports)
Team News: The Ulster side is bolstered with the inclusion of a number of international players returning from World Cup duty – Paddy Wallace and Isaac Boss will form the half-back partnership with young guns Niall O’Connor and Paul Marshall on the bench, while in the front row Bryan Young replaces Justin Fitzpatrick.
Italian lock Carlo Del Fava will make his first start in an Ulster jersey when he partners Justin Harrison in an all-international second row, while Stephen Ferris will be delighted to get some game-time and is named at number eight in place of Roger Wilson. Rory Best, who was the Ulster player that got most game-time for Ireland at the World Cup, is likely to be introduced off the bench on Friday night.
With Ulster’s new captain Best named amongst the replacements and his brother and vice-captain Simon sidelined having been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat, Isaac Boss has been named as Ulster captain for the first time.
Meanwhile, Welsh World Cup star Dafydd James was to return to Scarlets duty on Friday but has been confirmed as a late withdrawal. James was to be the only returning Welsh player in the squad as Scarlets boss Phil Davies gives his stars a further few days to recharge their batteries.
James pulled out after straining an ankle in training on Thursday. His place on the right wing has been taken by Nathan Brew, who will be making his first start for the Scarlets. Brew’s place on the bench has been taken by Mark Jones.
Prop Iestyn Thomas and number eight Nathan Thomas do return to the fray for the Scarlets, replacing Phil John and Dafydd Jones respectively while young hooker Ken Owens comes in for James Hayter.
Llanelli: Morgan Stoddart; Nathan Brew, Regan King, Gavin Evans, Matthew Watkins; Rhys Priestland, Liam Davies; Iestyn Thomas, Ken Owens, Deacon Manu, Vernon Cooper, Adam Eustace, James Bater (capt), Jonathan Edwards, Nathan Thomas.
Replacements: Bruce Douglas, James Hayter, Lou Reed, Dafydd Jones, Gavin Cattle, Ceiron Thomas, Mark Jones.
Ulster: Bryn Cunningham; Mark Bartholomeusz, Tommy Bowe, Seamus Mallon, Simon Danielli; Paddy Wallace, Isaac Boss (capt); Bryan Young, Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Justin Harrison, Carlo Del Fava, Matt McCullough, Neil McMillan, Stephen Ferris.
Replacements: Rory Best, Justin Fitzpatrick, Tim Barker, Roger Wilson, Paul Marshall, Niall O’Connor, Mark McCrea.
Referee: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)
Coach Speak: Mark McCall (Ulster) – “When we lost to Gloucester at home in the pre-season friendly, we got a really good performance that night and we did so against the Ospreys. But against Edinburgh and the Dragons (in recent weeks), we dipped well below what we expect and we have to deliver a much better performance on Friday night.
“We had 27 turnovers against Edinburgh and 21 turnovers against the Dragons which put pressure on ourselves and relieved pressure on our opponents. Our lineout is delivering us as good ball as we have had in years, but we haven’t used it terribly well and because of that we are not generating any momentum or putting pressure on opposition.”
Phil Davies (Llanelli) – “I think Ulster will come with a resilience and attitude and they will want to perform well and get a win. Mark McCall and (forwards coach) Steve Williams are good coaches and they have good players at their disposal. They will be pretty tough to beat and we are aware of that.
“We have got to make sure we turn up with the right attitude and make it difficult for them. With guys like (Justin) Fitzpatrick and (Justin) Harrison they have very experienced forwards, while in the backs, Tommy Bowe is a class player and Bryn Cunningham at full-back brings a lot of quality to the side.”
Top Scorers: 2007/08 Magners League – Points: Llanelli: Rhys Priestland 47; Ulster: Niall O’Connor 23; Tries: Llanelli: Jonathan Edwards, Morgan Stoddart, Matthew Watkins 2 each; Ulster: Simon Danielli, Mark Bartholomeusz, Tom Court 1 each.
PREVIOUS LEAGUE MEETINGS:
February 6, 2004: Ulster 10 Llanelli Scarlets 9, Ravenhill
May 14, 2004: Llanelli Scarlets 23 Ulster 16, Stradey Park
November 28, 2004: Llanelli Scarlets 22 Ulster 9, Stradey Park
April 15, 2005: Ulster 16 Llanelli Scarlets 3, Ravenhill
January 27, 2006: Ulster 30 Llanelli Scarlets 13, Ravenhill
May 19, 2006: Llanelli Scarlets 12 Ulster 12, Stradey Park
September 2, 2006: Ulster 31 Llanelli Scarlets 16, Ravenhill
March 3, 2007: Llanelli Scarlets 17 Ulster 11, Stradey Park
– Llanelli Scarlets have won three of their last four games in the Magners League. The Scarlets have not lost a league match at Stradey Park to a non-Welsh side since Edinburgh won there by 21-15 on September 2, 2005.
– Ulster have lost back-to-back matches in the Magners League to Edinburgh and the Dragons, but have not lost three in succession in the competition since the 2004/05 season.
– The two sides met on four separate occasions last season with Ulster’s only success in those games coming at Ravenhill in September. Ulster have never won in six previous visits to Stradey Park.
ULSTER MATCH REPORTS:
October 6 – Newport Gwent Dragons 31 Ulster 11
September 28 – Edinburgh 24 Ulster 10
September 21 – Ulster 17 Ospreys 16