Ireland team-mates Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe will go head-to-head in an intriguing midfield battle on Saturday after the pair were picked to play in the centre for Ulster and the Ospreys respectively.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, September 27
OSPREYS v ULSTER, Liberty Stadium, 5.30pm (live Setanta Sports 2/S4C)
Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has named an experienced team to take on the Ospreys in Saturday’s Magners League encounter at Liberty Stadium.
There have been a number of changes to the Ulster team that was defeated last week by the Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill.
The big change being the loss of hooker and team captain Rory Best who, after receiving a knock to the knee in last Friday’s game, is resting up in anticipation of Ulster’s first Heineken Cup match against Stade Francais in two weeks’ time.
In Best’s absence, the captaincy moves to Italian international Carlo Del Fava, and Nigel Brady steps into replace Best as hooker.
Bryn Cunningham replaces Clinton Schifcofske as full-back, with Schifcofske moving out to the left wing. Andrew Trimble also moves into the centre to partner Rob Dewey, which means Darren Cave drops out of the matchday squad.
In the forwards, Justin Fitzpatrick replaces Tom Court at loosehead prop, with Court dropping to the replacements bench.
Also on the bench is Ireland back rower Stephen Ferris, who is making a welcome return to the Ulster squad for his first competitive game of the season. He has recovered from a troublesome back injury.
Meanwhile, Richard Hibbard and Gavin Henson are in the Ospreys’ 22-man squad to face Ulster.
Hibbard makes his first appearance of the season following minor shoulder surgery in the summer.
If he comes off the replacements bench, Henson will be making his first appearance in an Ospreys jersey since damaging ankle ligaments against Saracens in April.
Wales winger Shane Williams is back in the starting line-up after missing last weekend’s defeat to Leinster at the RDS.
With Williams and Nikki Walker claiming the wing berths, former Ulster star Tommy Bowe joins James Hook in a new-look midfield partnership.
Hook’s place at out-half has been taken by Daniel Biggar, while another Welsh international, Lee Byrne, has been cleared to play after recovering from a stomach upset.
OSPREYS: Lee Byrne; Nikki Walker, Tommy Bowe, James Hook, Shane Williams; Daniel Biggar, Rhodri Wells; Paul James (capt), Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Andy Lloyd, Ian Evans, Jonathan Thomas, Marty Holah, Tom Smith.
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Duncan Jones, Ian Gough, Ryan Jones, Rhys Webb, Andrew Bishop, Gavin Henson.
ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Timoci Nagusa, Rob Dewey, Andrew Trimble, Clinton Schifcofske; Niall O’Connor, Isaac Boss; Justin Fitzpatrick, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Carlo Del Fava (capt), Ryan Caldwell, Matt McCullough, Kieron Dawson, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Stuart Phillpott, Tom Court, Ed O’Donoghue, Stephen Ferris, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Paul Steinmetz.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, Alan Jenkins (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Say What: Matt Williams (Ulster) – “Stephen (Ferris) is a great runner with the ball. He is the second fastest guy in the team over 50 metres, which is staggering for his size, because we have some quick boys.
“He is in great shape. We had held him back purposely and he is now fully fit and coming in two weeks before Europe, he is a big boost for us.
“There is added pressure there on Matt McCullough, Robbie Diack and Tommy Anderson, but at the same time Stephen has to prove himself too.
“The other guys have played really well. The back row is always the most competitive position. Eventually we are going to have to lose someone out and it is going to be very hard to justify that.
“The back row, in particular, has been really impressive. The forwards on the whole have played very well, dominating in the scrums and the lineout is now starting to come.
“And they are also standing up around the park. Last year we were getting knocked about a bit, pushed off ball, but that is not happening now.
“We put on a lot of weight in the off-season and we are getting there. We may still be a full year off at least to where we want to be, but the progress being made in that respect is good.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “We suffered our first defeat of the season at the hands of Leinster last Friday, and although we are obviously disappointed with the result, we have taken a lot of positives from what was a strong performance.
“Ulster are a very difficult team to take on, they always provide a real physical challenge up front, they are well organised and abrasive, and take the breakdown and tackle area to its limits.
“They’ve also got plenty of pace in the back-three who offer a threat from any area of the pitch, and of course, with us having faced them four times over the last year they have plenty of experience of how to play against us.
“Having spent the last few weeks on the road, and in particular after last weekend’s game in Dublin where there was a big crowd, we are all hoping that there will be a good crowd at the Liberty to welcome us back and to generate a great atmosphere.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Ospreys: James Hook 43; Ulster: Clinton Schifcofske 13; Tries: Ospreys: James Hook, Nikki Walker 2 each; Ulster: Isaac Boss, BJ Botha, Kieron Dawson, Ian Humphreys 1 each.
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, March 28, 2008 – Ospreys 32 Ulster 7, Liberty Stadium
– The Ospreys lost their 100% record in this season’s Magners League when they were beaten 19-13 by champions Leinster last Friday
– The Welsh region’s only reversal at Liberty Stadium since last November was a 19-18 loss to Edinburgh on May 2 last
– Ulster are still struggling to break their season’s duck following an unprecedented fifth successive Magners League defeat at the hands of the Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill last week
– Ulster have not won in Wales since a 32-25 victory over the Dragons at Rodney Parade on September 9, 2006
– The Ulstermen have not beaten the Ospreys since a 17-16 triumph at Ravenhill last September. Ulster’s only previous victory on Ospreys soil was a 19-17 win at Liberty Stadium on May 26, 2006, which saw them secure the league title