Ulster supporters will be expecting a big performance from their team against Edinburgh tonight, as they bid to open their win account for the season just a week before the start of the Heineken Cup.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, October 3
ULSTER v EDINBURGH, Ravenhill, 7.30pm
Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has named a dramatically different side to take on Edinburgh at Ravenhill on Friday night, with fit-again captain Rory Best amongst the changes.
The Ulster starting line-up shows eight changes in personnel and two positional switches to the team that suffered a 43-0 defeat to the Ospreys in Swansea last weekend.
Tom Court, Ed O’Donoghue, Stephen Ferris and Paul Steinmetz are all promoted from the replacements bench.
Ulster skipper Best and young back rower David Pollock both return from injury for this crucial clash.
Meanwhile, Darren Cave and Cillian Willis are given the nod ahead of Rob Dewey and Paul Marshall, who have both been dropped from the matchday squad.
Explaining his selection decisions, Williams said: “The changes I have made are all based on performance, apart from Kieron Dawson. Kieron was exceptional last week and has been our best player lately.
“He is on the bench only because we are giving him a rest from the starting line-up this week.
“It’s great to have Paul Steinmetz back to full fitness. He had an operation during the summer and we are so pleased to finally get him back on the pitch.
“I thought Paul played well against the Ospreys and provided quality leadership on the pitch.
“Darren Cave is also back in the team. He is very strong defensively. We tried a different centre partnership against the Ospreys and it didn’t work, so we are going to see if Cave and Steinmetz will work (tomorrow night).
“Timoci (Nagusa) needs a break. He has been starting in every game and I want to give him a rest on the bench.”
Meanwhile, Jim Thompson will make his first ever Magners League start for Edinburgh when they visit Belfast.
Full-back Chris Paterson was ruled out for the trip with an ankle problem, paving the way for Thompson – grandson of celebrated rugby commentator Bill McLaren – to make his full debut for Edinburgh.
After making his Magners League bow as a replacement at Leinster last season, the 23-year-old had to wait 12 months before sampling his next taste of professional rugby.
Edinburgh coach Andy Robinson has also handed David Blair his first start of the campaign in a half-back combination with elder brother Mike, who was rested for last week’s clash with the Dragons.
Andrew Kelly, who is nearing his 100th appearance for Edinburgh, will don the number 2 jersey with regular hooker Ross Ford named amongst the replacements.
In the second row, Ben Gissing returns to the starting line-up at the expense of Craig Hamilton while on the bench, National Academy flanker Chris Fusaro could make his debut for Edinburgh.
ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Clinton Schifcofske, Darren Cave, Paul Steinmetz, Andrew Trimble; Niall O’Connor, Cillian Willis; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, David Pollock, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Justin Fitzpatrick, Carlo Del Fava, Kieron Dawson/Matt McCullough, Isaac Boss, Ian Humphreys, Timoci Nagusa.
EDINBURGH: Jim Thompson; John Houston, Hugo Southwell, Nick De Luca, Mark Robertson; David Blair, Mike Blair (capt); Allan Jacobsen, Andrew Kelly, Gavin Kerr, Jim Hamilton, Ben Gissing, Matt Mustchin, Allister Hogg, Scott Newlands.
Replacements: Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Chris Fusaro, Greig Laidlaw, Phil Godman, Calum MacRae.
Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Assistant Referees: John Carvill, Trevor Collins (both Ireland)
Say What: BJ Botha (Ulster) – “I have lost many times like that (the Ospreys game) and the secret is about how you stand up from it. It makes you stronger.
“We have got a tough side here and we can definitely get back up on our feet from this and learn from our mistakes.
“We are playing a new side on Friday and it is more important to analyse them than dwell on our past performance.
“I don’t think the pressure is there that much. We all would like a win but I think what is important is a good performance and the result will look after itself.
“Honestly, I don’t think there is much we should change. We are doing the right things on the training field and off the field.
“It will come. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We have the players and the coaching staff to get it right.
“For us it is about getting continuity. We want to perform as a team, which we have done in the past without getting the result.
“We won’t start thinking about the Heineken Cup until next week. This week is all about Edinburgh and it is a massive week.
“We are all professionals, it is our job. The guys will look at what they have done wrong and try to fix it on the field.
“But as a professional there is no time in this cut-throat business to take it personally. We have to put it right together and the only way we can put it right is on the field.”
Jim Thompson (Edinburgh) – “I’m really looking forward to making my first Magners League start against Ulster. It is a shame that Mossy (Chris Paterson) is out injured and I feel for him.
“But it has created an opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to starting for Edinburgh and playing as well as I can.
“I gave my dad (horse racing presenter Derek Thompson) a wee text earlier on and he replied: ‘Well done son!’
“Unfortunately he can’t make it over to Belfast, but I’m sure he has already checked the odds on me scoring the first try!”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Ulster: Clinton Schifcofske 13; Edinburgh: Chris Paterson 33; Tries: Ulster: Isaac Boss, BJ Botha, Kieron Dawson, Ian Humphreys 1 each; Edinburgh: Mark Robertson 2.
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 16, 2005 – Ulster 30 Edinburgh 23, Ravenhill
Friday, February 17, 2006 – Edinburgh 23 Ulster 31, Murrayfield
Friday, September 15, 2006 – Edinburgh 20 Ulster 15, Murrayfield
Friday, May 11, 2007 – Ulster 16 Edinburgh 10, Ravenhill
Friday, September 28, 2007 – Edinburgh 24 Ulster 10, Murrayfield
Friday, November 30, 2007 – Ulster 14 Edinburgh 20, Ravenhill
– Ulster’s poor form continues, with a sixth straight league defeat at the hands of the Cardiff Blues last Friday. The Ulstermen’s last victory was at home to Munster on April 30
– Ulster have lost their last four games against Scottish teams since a 16-10 victory over Edinburgh at Ravenhill on May 11, 2007
– Edinburgh’s only win in the Magners League so far this season has been a 32-12 success at home to the Scarlets on September 19
– Edinburgh have recorded just one win on their last nine visits to Ireland in all competitions – a 20-14 triumph in this corresponding fixture at Ravenhill last season
– Edinburgh achieved a ‘league double’ over Ulster for the first time last season