Simon Easterby’s Llanelli Scarlets are the visitors to Ravenhill tonight in the Magners League as they look to get the better of a resurgent Ulster, in what is Matt Williams’ second game in charge of the province.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, February 29
ULSTER v LLANELLI SCARLETS, Ravenhill, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: New Ulster boss Matt Williams has made five changes to the team that accounted for the Newport Gwent Dragons last time out.
Williams has opted to bring in team captain Rory Best, Paddy Wallace, Mark Bartholomeusz, Matt McCullough and Tom Court for the Ravenhill tie.
Both Best and Wallace are returning from international duty after coming on as second half replacements in Ireland’s 34-13 Six Nations win over Scotland last Saturday.
In the backs, Bartholomeusz starts at full-back with Bryn Cunningham dropping to the bench and Mark McCrea and Simon Danielli keeping hold of the wing spots.
Wallace starts at centre alongside Paul Steinmetz with Ireland ‘A’ international Darren Cave named as cover on the bench. Isaac Boss retains the number 9 jersey and will play alongside Limavady man Niall O’Connor at half-back.
Returning to the starting line-up in the forwards is Matt McCullough, who recently captain Ulster ‘A’ and has edged out Neil Best for the number 6 jersey.
Ryan Caldwell and Justin Harrison are named as the second row options with Italian lock Carlo Del Fava, who has escaped a ban after his incident with Wales’ Stephen Jones at the weekend, covering on the bench.
In the front row the Australia-born Court is named at tighthead with Bryan Young on the loosehead side of the province’s scrum.
Meanwhile, Dafydd Jones has been pressed into the second row as emergency cover for Llanelli’s trip to face Ulster.
With Vernon Cooper’s hand currently covered in plaster after a training ground mishap and Adam Eustace also injured while Scott MacLeod is unavailable, the back rower has put his hand up to partner youngster Lou Reed in the heart of the engine room.
Eager for game-time, Wales’ Dwayne Peel starts at scrum half after being released from the Welsh camp while Alix Popham and Ireland’s Simon Easterby will start the game from the bench.
ULSTER: Mark Bartholomeusz; Simon Danielli, Paul Steinmetz, Paddy Wallace, Mark McCrea; Niall O’Connor, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), Tom Court, Justin Harrison, Ryan Caldwell, Matt McCullough, Kieron Dawson, Stephen Ferris.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Justin Fitzpatrick, Carlo Del Fava, Neil Best, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Bryn Cunningham.
LLANELLI SCARLETS: Morgan Stoddart; Dafydd James, Regan King, Gavin Evans, Nathan Brew; Rhys Priestland, Dwayne Peel; Iestyn Thomas, Mahonri Schwalger, Deacon Manu, Dafydd Jones, Lou Reed, James Bater (capt), Gavin Thomas, Nathan Thomas.
Replacements: Phil John, Ken Owens, Dominic Day, Simon Easterby, Alix Popham, Gavin Cattle, Ceiron Thomas.
Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Say What: Stephen Ferris (Ulster) – “Matt (Williams) has said to us that if we think it is on in our 22, we go. Everyone has been asking if we have been practising our offloads. But we’re not really. It is just we are practising our support.
“Before the Dragons game, people were making half breaks and there was nobody there. Now, if there is a half break, there are two or three people coming from everywhere to get on to the ball.
“I would take a one-point win now (over the Scarlets). It is so vital for us to get another victory and get the crowd behind us.”
Robert Jones (Llanelli backs coach) – “We have seven games left and if we really want to win this competition, which we do, we have to win all seven. It is not a case of going into any of these games thinking maybe we can afford to lose one. Every game matters.
“The win against Glasgow has put us back on track and as far as the disappointments of Europe are concerned I think we have come out the other side.
“We were in desperate need of a mental and physical break after the Heineken Cup and although we have only had one game back since then it has put us on the right footing.”
Top Scorers: 2007/08 Magners League – Points: Ulster: Paddy Wallace 32; Llanelli: Rhys Priestland 97; Tries: Ulster: Tommy Bowe, Simon Danielli 2 each; Llanelli: Regan King 7.
PREVIOUS LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, February 6, 2004 – Ulster 10 Llanelli Scarlets 9, Ravenhill
Friday, May 14, 2004 – Llanelli Scarlets 23 Ulster 16, Stradey Park
Sunday, November 28, 2004 – Llanelli Scarlets 22 Ulster 9, Stradey Park
Friday, April 15, 2005 – Ulster 16 Llanelli Scarlets 3, Ravenhill
Friday, January 27, 2006 – Ulster 30 Llanelli Scarlets 13, Ravenhill
Friday, May 19, 2006 – Llanelli Scarlets 12 Ulster 12, Stradey Park
Saturday, September 2, 2006 – Ulster 31 Llanelli Scarlets 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Llanelli Scarlets 17 Ulster 11, Stradey Park
Friday, October 12, 2007 – Llanelli Scarlets 32 Ulster 8, Stradey Park
– Matt Williams began his tenure as Ulster head coach with a 38-13 victory over the Dragons at Ravenhill on February 15, ending Ulster’s two month winless run in the Magners League
– Ulster have won their last nine matches at home to Welsh teams in the league since the Ospreys’ 20-12 victory at Ravenhill on November 4, 2005
– Llanelli Scarlets ended a four-game losing run in all competitions with their 30-7 win over Glasgow Warriors at Stradey Park on February 15
– The Scarlets have lost their last seven away matches since a 52-23 victory over Leinster at the RDS in the Magners League on October 5
– The Scarlets have won their last four encounters with Ulster in all competitions