Friday will see the Ospreys and Ulster meet for the fourth time this season. Hoping to bounce back from last weekend’s heavy defeat to Munster, an Ulster victory in Swansea will keep them clear of the bottom of the Magners League table.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, March 28
OSPREYS v ULSTER, Liberty Stadium, 7.10pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Matt McCullough, Isaac Boss, Kieron Dawson and Bryan Young will all return to the Ulster starting line-up for Friday’s Magners League tussle with the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
For the trip to Swansea, Ulster coach Matt Williams has altered his back row with Neil Best and David Pollock dropping out of the squad and Matt McCullough taking the number 6 jersey and former Ireland flanker Kieron Dawson starting at number 7.
In the province’s front row, Bryan Young returns at loosehead prop with Justin Fitzpatrick omitted from the team and Declan Fitzpatrick added as cover. New Zealander Grant Webb is named as the back row cover on the bench.
The Ulster backs remain unchanged apart from Ireland’s Isaac Boss getting the nod at scrum half ahead of Kieran Campbell.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys have made a total of nine personnel changes for Friday’s Magners League encounter with Ulster.
The Welsh region’s management have opted to tinker with the side that started last weekend’s 30-3 EDF Energy Cup semi-final win over Saracens.
There are three changes in the back-line with Nikki Walker, Andrew Bishop and Justin Marshall coming in for Welsh internationals Lee Byrne, Gavin Henson and Mike Phillips. Byrne’s absence at full-back will see Johnny Vaughton don the number 15 jersey.
There is a completely new front row with Paul James, Richard Hibbard and Adam Jones making way for Duncan Jones, Huw Bennett and Cai Griffiths. In the second row, Ian Gough comes in for Alun Wyn Jones, while Ben Lewis and Filo Tiatia fill the back row berths vacated by Marty Holah and Ryan Jones.
The Ospreys have just one player unavailable due to injury – experienced hooker Barry Williams is undergoing a four-month rehabilitation programme following keyhole surgery on his hip in January and will not play again this season.
OSPREYS: Johnny Vaughton; Nikki Walker, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Shane Williams; James Hook, Justin Marshall; Duncan Jones, Huw Bennett, Cai Griffiths, Ian Gough, Ian Evans, Jonathan Thomas, Ben Lewis, Filo Tiatia (capt).
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Paul James, Alun Wyn Jones, Tom Smith, Rhys Webb, Shaun Connor, Jonathan Spratt.
ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Paddy Wallace, Mark Bartholomeusz; 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, Declan Fitzpatrick, Grant Webb, Roger Wilson, Kieran Campbell, Rob Dewey, Mark McCrea.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Say What: Matt Williams (Ulster) – “We have some guys back starting for us including Bryan Young, Kieron Dawson and Matt McCullough. We are fortunate that we have those options to move things around and keep things fresh.
“Paul Marshall picked up a groin injury against Munster so Isaac will be starting. Our back-line functioned well offensively against Munster and the set play defended well so that unit remains the same with Kieran Campbell in as cover on the bench.
“Grant Webb deserves a shot. I haven’t seen him play since I arrived so it is an opportunity for him on the bench, same with Roger Wilson who has had 20 minutes of rugby in last three months.
“We know that this will be a tough game, we always said the Munster and Ospreys games would be the two hardest away games but it is a chance to give the young guys some game time and the game will be really important as part of the learning curve as we build up to the home Connacht game on April 11.”
Lyn Jones (Ospreys) – “Friday night presents us with another stern challenge in the shape of an Ulster side who will no doubt be hurting after a heavy defeat against Munster last weekend and will be keen to bounce back so we realise that we’ll have to be at our best.
“We’ve played them three times already this season, twice at Ravenhill and once here at the Liberty Stadium, and the two away games were both very tight affairs so we are under no illusions that it will be another difficult match this time around.
“Ulster command massive respect because of their history in the Magners League, and although they have had a difficult season, they appear to be turning the corner and have picked up some good wins against Welsh sides recently.
“This is another big game for us, we need the win in order to start moving up the Magners League as we look to target Cardiff Blues who are in touching distance, two places and eight points clear of us.”
Top Scorers: 2007/08 Magners League – Points: Ospreys: Shaun Connor 103; Ulster: Niall O’Connor 42; Tries: Ospreys: Lee Byrne 3; Ulster: Tommy Bowe, Simon Danielli, Isaac Boss 2 each.
PREVIOUS LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 5, 2003 – Ospreys 41 Ulster 30, The Gnoll
Friday, February 13, 2004 – Ulster 31 Ospreys 19, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 25, 2004 – Ulster 24 Ospreys 37, Ravenhill
Friday, January 21, 2005 – Ospreys 22 Ulster 21, St. Helen’s
Friday, November 4, 2005 – Ulster 12 Ospreys 20, Ravenhill
Friday, May 26, 2006 – Ospreys 17 Ulster 19, Liberty Stadium
Friday, September 22, 2006 – Ulster 43 Ospreys 7, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 27, 2007 – Ospreys 29 Ulster 22, Liberty Stadium
Friday, September 21, 2007 – Ulster 17 Ospreys 16, Ravenhill
– The Ospreys’ only defeat in their last nine games in all competitions at Liberty Stadium was a 26-19 loss to table-topping Leinster on November 23
– Ulster suffered their biggest ever league defeat at Munster last Saturday, and have won just once away from home since April 2007 – a 30-13 triumph at Connacht on November 23
– Ulster’s last win in Wales was a 32-15 success at the Dragons in the Magners League on September 9, 2006
– The two sides have already met on three occasions this season, with the Ospreys winning home and away in the Heineken Cup, but Ulster triumphed 17-16 in the Magners League encounter at Ravenhill in September