There is plenty of added intrigue to Friday’s televised Magners League showdown between Ulster and the Llanelli Scarlets as Matt Williams, with new players in the back-line and across all three lines in the pack, looks for a winning start to his first full season at Ravenhill.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, September 5
ULSTER v LLANELLI SCARLETS, Ravenhill, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
For photos of the Ulster players training at Newforge in the lead-up to this game, please click here.
Team News: South African tighthead prop BJ Botha will make his debut for Ulster against the Llanelli Scarlets in the first game of the province’s 2008/09 Magners League campaign.
Botha only linked up with the Ulster squad last weekend but coach Matt Williams is confident that the World Cup winner will be ready for Friday’s game.
“Brendon (BJ) has been training with the Sharks for the last few weeks so I have no concerns over his fitness levels, he has impressed us all at training this week and I am delighted to name him in the side,” Williams admitted.
“It’s important to hit the ground running and I feel we have picked a strong side for the first game.”
Williams has made several changes to the Ulster side that lost to Worcester over a week ago at Ravenhill.
The front row is transformed with stalwart Justin Fitzpatrick named at loosehead, team captain Rory Best at hooker and Botha on the tighthead side.
In the second row Italian lock Carlo Del Fava partners new recruit Ed O’Donoghue.
The back row sees recent signing Robbie Diack return at number 8 with Matt McCullough and Kieron Dawson named as the two flankers.
Isaac Boss and Paddy Wallace have been named as the half-back pairing with former Australia ‘A’ international Clinton Schifcofske positioned at full-back.
Ireland ace Andrew Trimble starts on the right wing with Fijian international Timoci Nagusa taking on the left wing berth.
The centre pairing of Scotland’s Rob Dewey and Ireland Sevens star Darren Cave could cause the Scarlets a number of problems.
Meanwhile, with first choice centres Regan King (hamstring) and Jonathan Davies (leg) both out injured, the Scarlets will field Rob Higgitt and Gavin Evans in midfield.
Also in the visitors’ back-line, Sililo Martens will be stepping into Dwayne Peel’s boots at scrum half. Peel has left Llanelli for Sale Sharks.
The Welsh region are also currently without the services of injured flanker Johnathan Edwards (knee), but former Ireland flanker Simon Easterby is still part of an impressive back row unit which includes Australia’s David Lyons.
Lyons and New Zealand duo Kees Meeuws and Simon Maling will all be making their competitive debuts for Llanelli.
This is Nigel Davies’ first competitive game in charge of the Scarlets since his return to Stradey Park, following Phil Davies’ departure at the end of last season.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Rob Dewey, Timoci Nagusa; Paddy Wallace, lsaac Boss; Justin Fitzpatrick, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Carlo Del Fava, Ed O’Donoghue, Matt McCullough, Kieron Dawson, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Ryan Caldwell, David Pollock, Cillian Willis, Niall O’Connor, Bryn Cunningham.
LLANELLI SCARLETS: Morgan Stoddard; Darren Daniel, Rob Higgitt, Gavin Evans, Mark Jones; Stephen Jones, Sililo Martens; Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees, Kees Meeuws, Lou Reed, Simon Maling, Simon Easterby (capt), Gavin Thomas, David Lyons.
Replacements (from): Deacon Manu, Mahonri Schwalger, Vernon Cooper, Dafydd Jones, Martin Roberts, Ceiron Thomas, Nathan Brew, Daniel Evans, Scott MacLeod.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Touch Judges: David Keane, Paul Haycock (both Ireland)
Say What: Matt Williams (Ulster) – “We are ready for the Scarlets, I have mentioned this week in the media that we have had selection issues in that we have a great squad to choose from, that is something I am really pleased about.
“The Scarlets are a good side and have recruited well over the summer. They will be keen to lay down the law at Ravenhill as we meet them again in the Heineken Cup in December.
“But we are determined to get our season off to a good start and build that confidence in the team up.”
Nigel Davies (Llanelli Scarlets) – “Training has been great. A lot of people have put their hands up for places and that’s what we want. Competition in the squad pushes everybody forward.
“The players who start on Friday night know there’s a group directly behind them who are more than capable of coming in.
“Ulster should be an interesting encounter because they’ve got home advantage and will be looking to start with a bang but we’ve been working hard to put a game together with a new group of coaches and some new players.”
Top Scorers: 2007/08 Magners League – Points: Ulster: Niall O’Connor 54; Llanelli Scarlets: Rhys Priestland 107; Tries: Ulster: Tommy Bowe 5; Llanelli Scarlets: Regan King 7.
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, February 29, 2008 – Ulster 20 Llanelli Scarlets 8, Ravenhill
– Ulster have won their opening game of a Magners League season for the past three years, however they have
lost their last three matches against Welsh regions
– The Llanelli Scarlets are winless on the start of a new season for the past three years, whilst another defeat would set a new unwanted Scarlets record of six successive league defeats
– The Scarlets have not beaten an Irish side since a 32-8 win over Ulster at Stradey Park in October 2007
– The Scarlets have lost on all five previous visits to Ravenhill in the league, but they did win there 35-11 in the European Cup in January 2007