Ulster supporters are hoping to cheer David Humphreys to a victory in his 163rd and final game for the province on Friday night. The omens are good with Cardiff having lost on all five of their previous visits to Ravenhill.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, May 9
ULSTER v CARDIFF BLUES, Ravenhill, 7.30pm
Team News: David Humphreys will start for his province on Friday night at Ravenhill, in Ulster’s last game of the season and the veteran out-half’s last game of his rugby-playing career.
Humphreys, the Ulster and Ireland legend, has been plagued with injuries this season and after being picked for his final game, he remarked: “I am delighted to be playing one more time at Ravenhill. It’s great to get a final opportunity to play for Ulster.
“With the injuries I’ve suffered this season I didn’t think it would happen. I’m really looking forward to running out one last time.”
With Ulster now qualified for the Heineken Cup next season, coach Matt Williams has made five changes to the province’s starting line-up.
The back-line remains unchanged apart from Paddy Wallace dropping to the replacements bench to accommodate Humphreys.
Bryan Young starts at loosehead prop with Justin Fitzpatrick named on the bench.
Carlo Del Fava picked up an injury against Glasgow so Ryan Caldwell starts in the second row alongside Justin Harrison, who will be making his final appearance for Ulster before moving onto Bath.
Stephen Ferris returns from injury at blindside flanker with Matt McCullough making way and Kieron Dawson starting at openside.
Meanwhile, young wingers Roger Davies and Leigh Halfpenny will make their debuts for the Cardiff Blues in Belfast.
The Blues have already secured their position as top-placed Welsh team in the Magners League this season, and with a four-point cushion over Munster, a win against Ulster will cement their place as runners-up in the final league pecking order.
The Blues’ line-up shows wholesale changes to the team that recorded a 39-11 win against Connacht in Galway last Friday.
Nicky Robinson, Xavier Rush, Scott Morgan, Maama Molitika and Taufa’ao Filise the only players to keep their starting places.
ULSTER: Mark Bartholomeusz; Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Rob Dewey, Simon Danielli; David Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), Tom Court, Justin Harrison, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, Kieron Dawson, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Justin Fitzpatrick, Matt McCullough, Neil Best, Paul Marshall, Paddy Wallace, Mark McCrea.
CARDIFF BLUES: Nick Macleod; Roger Davies, Marc Stcherbina, Dafydd Hewitt, Leigh Halfpenny; Nicky Robinson, Richie Rees; Taufa’ao Filise, Gareth Williams, Gary Powell, Bradley Davies, Scott Morgan, Maama Molitika, Ben White, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements: John Yapp, Rhys Thomas, James Down, Mark Lewis, Rhys Shellard, Jason Spice, Dai Flanagan.
Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Say What: Matt Williams (Ulster) – “David (Humphreys) is an iconic figure in Ulster and Irish rugby and I hope the people of Ulster turn up to say thank you for a remarkable career.
“For a number of players this will be there last game with Ulster, so Friday night is the perfect opportunity for the fans to say their goodbyes to some much loved players.
“We’ve had three games in 10 days, which has been hard on the boys, but the support at Ravenhill has really helped get the guys in a positive mind frame and give it all they’ve got on the pitch.
“Cardiff are the powerhouse of Welsh rugby, Heineken Cup quarter-finalists and fighting for second place in the Magners League – they will be a handful.
“A win this Friday would be a great send-off for our players who are going to pastures new next season and would put the team on a real positive footing for next season.”
David Young (Cardiff Blues) – “The margin of the win (over Connacht) was pleasing last week, and the boys were disappointed to let in a last-minute try.
“Overall this season has been a big step forward for us. We won two out of three in the EDF Energy Cup, reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and are the best are the best-placed Welsh region in the Magners League.
“We’ve already stared to look at areas where we can improve. We are all hands to the pump at the minute with the Wales call-ups and also with injuries, so we are down to what we have got left.
“We haven’t trained much this week either because of our lack of numbers. However it’s nice to see two youngsters coming in on the wing. They have both played well for Cardiff this season and deserve their chance.”
Top Scorers: 2007/08 Magners League – Points: Ulster: Niall O’Connor 54; Cardiff Blues: Ben Blair 89; Tries: Ulster: Tommy Bowe 4; Cardiff Blues: Tom James 9.
PREVIOUS LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 31, 2003 – Ulster 32 Cardiff Blues 7, Ravenhill
Saturday, April 3, 2004 – Cardiff Blues 19 Ulster 15, Arms Park
Friday, November 19, 2004 – Ulster 30 Cardiff Blues 14, Ravenhill
Friday, April 8, 2005 – Cardiff Blues 22 Ulster 8, Arms Park
Friday, September 9, 2005 – Cardiff Blues 22 Ulster 25, Arms Park
Friday, May 5, 2006 – Ulster 26 Cardiff Blues 17, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 14, 2006 – Ulster 32 Cardiff Blues 12, Ravenhill
Friday, April 20, 2007 – Cardiff Blues 20 Ulster 17, Arms Park
Saturday, April 19, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 30 Ulster 17, Arms Park
– Ulster tripped up 35-24 at home to Glasgow Warriors last Saturday and for the first time secured a try bonus point despite losing
– Ulster have lost their last two games against Welsh opponents, but have not lost at Ravenhill against a Welsh side in the league since the Ospreys were the visitors in November 2005
– The Cardiff Blues have won their last four games in the Magners League. They have not won five in-a-row in the league since the 2005/06 season
– The Blues have won five of their last six games against Irish opposition
– The last four clashes between the two teams have all been won by the home side on the day, while the Blues have lost on all five previous visits to Ravenhill