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Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

It will be win or bust for Matt Williams’ Ulster side tonight when they take on the Scarlets in a crucial Heineken Cup encounter at Ravenhill. Williams said: “We are still in the Heineken Cup, we have to win all four (remaining games).”

HEINEKEN CUP – POOL 4: Friday, December 5 

ULSTER v SCARLETS, Ravenhill, 8pm (live Sky Sports HD1 Interactive)

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Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has made two changes, both in the back-line, to his side for Friday’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 showdown with the Scarlets at Ravenhill.

With Fijian international Timoci Nagusa ruled out with a hamstring injury, Scotland’s Simon Danielli will start for Ulster on the right wing.

Speaking ahead of his first European appearance since last January, Danielli said: “Playing for Ulster at Ravenhill is very special and when Trimby (Andrew Trimble) pulled out last week, it gave me a chance to start on the bench and then Timoci went off.

“With the amount of good players in our squad, when you get a chance you have to take it. Thankfully during the game a few holes opened up.”

Danielli was sprung for the bench and ran in two tries in last weekend’s 53-13 Magners League win over Connacht.

Also back to full fitness, Trimble will return to the starting line-up against the Scarlets. He has been pencilled in on the left wing in place of Mark McCrea who drops to the bench.

The province’s forward selection remains the same from the Connacht game.

Looking forward to his side’s return to European action, Williams said: “We are still in the Heineken Cup, we have to win all four (remaining games).

“We are playing every team in the pool and if any one of them slips up, which there is a strong chance of with Stade at ‘Quins, and we win our next two games, we are in it.

“But that will mean nothing if we don’t win at home. But even if we were out of it, which we are not, the attitude wouldn’t change. We would still go flat out at Ravenhill.

“We have worked too bloody hard and been through too much pain and come together so far to come out at Ravenhill and just say, ‘it doesn’t matter’. That’s just not going to happen.”

This is a must-win game for Ulster who lie fourth in the Pool 4 table, with pace setters Harlequins and Stade Francais nine points ahead of them.

But Williams’ charges have been boosted by recent wins over Munster and Connacht in the Magners League and Portugal in a friendly.

Meanwhile, the Scarlets’ matchday squad includes four Wales players fresh from beating Australia at the Millennium Stadium – Dafydd Jones, Mark Jones, Stephen Jones and Matthew Rees.

Also back in the fold, after missing last weekend’s Magners League defeat to Munster, is new Wales scrum half Martin Roberts and Wales full-back Morgan Stoddart.

Scarlets coach Nigel Davies said: “It’s great to have them back. They’ve returned buoyed by last weekend’s success for Wales and they’re our most experienced, talented players so to have them all back in the group is brilliant.

“They’ve added a lot to everything we’ve done this week.”

The Scarlets’ long term injuries include Kees Meeuws, Gavin Thomas and Rob Higgitt, with shorter term difficulties for players such as Gavin Evans, Simon Maling and Darren Daniel.

Scott MacLeod was not considered for this game as he works to overcome a recent long lay-off.

Davies added: “We’ve not got much fully fit cover behind the scrum at the moment but we’ve still been able to put out a very strong team.”

ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Simon Danielli, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble; Ian Humphreys, Cillian Willis; Justin Fitzpatrick, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, David Pollock, Robbie Diack.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Matt McCullough, Kieron Dawson, Isaac Boss, Paul Steinmetz, Mark McCrea.

SCARLETS: Morgan Stoddart; Ceiron Thomas, Regan King, Jon Davies, Mark Jones; Stephen Jones, Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas, Matthew Rees, Deacon Manu, Vernon Cooper, Dominic Day, Dafydd Jones, Simon Easterby (capt), David Lyons.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Phil John, Nathan Thomas, Johnathan Edwards, Gavin Cattle, Rhys Priestland, Lee Williams.

Referee: Andrew Small (England)
Assistant Referees: David Rose, Rob Mullis (both England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 8/15; Draw: 20/1; Scarlets to win: 6/4

Pre-Match Quotes: Matt Williams (Ulster) – “Apart from a lapse in the first half (against Connacht), we have only let in three tries at home in five games in the Magners League, which is fantastic.

“Number two, the boys are playing with ball in hand the way I like it. They have got the confidence to do it and the way they attacked the game was fantastic.

“They scored what I term zero-tackle tries, where we get possession and we score which means we are doing a lot of good angled running and seeing where the holes are. That has come on this year enormously.

“Also our attitude was great (against Connacht). We didn’t just win, we put the knife in and twisted it. We showed a lot of killer touches. They were calling ‘we want 50’, which was great.

“But when the Scarlets lose, they don’t lose by much. Players like Stephen Jones and David Lyons are in great form, they will be tough to beat on Friday.”

Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “Friday’s game is a massive one for us. We’re not where we want to be in Europe at this stage but I don’t think it’s completely over for us.

“If we can go to Belfast and get a result then that puts us in a position where we can look forward to two back-to-back home games.

“So, if we get a result in Belfast, then who knows? There’s no doubt we’ve got to put in a big performance on Friday.

“We’re a very proud team and we’re not going to hide from putting in that performance. We’ll fight all the way.”

Current Form – Ulster – (Magners League): Lost 16-9 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 16-15 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 16-14 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 43-0 away to the Ospreys; Won 13-9 at home to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Lost 26-10 at home to Stade Francais; Lost 42-21 away to Harlequins; (Magners League): Won 22-6 at home to Munster; (Friendly): Won 62-6 at home to Portugal); (Magners League): Won 53-13 at home to Connacht

Scarlets – (Magners League): Won 16-9 away to Ulster; Won 27-25 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 45-3 at home to Connacht; Lost 32-12 away to Edinburgh; (EDF Energy Cup): Won 26-17 away to Saracens; (Heineken Cup): Lost 29-22 at home to Harlequins; Lost 37-15 away to Stade Francais; (EDF Energy Cup): Won 27-0 at home to Bristol; Lost 33-20 away to Northampton Saints; (Magners League): Lost 18-16 at home to Munster

Previous European Meetings: 4

Saturday, January 13, 2007 – Pool 5 – Ulster 11 Scarlets 35, Ravenhill
Friday, October 27, 2006 – Pool 5 – Scarlets 21 Ulster 15, Stradey Park
Saturday, December 18, 1999 – Pool 3 – Scarlets 20 Ulster 3, Stradey Park
Friday, December 10, 1999 – Pool 3 – Ulster 6 Scarlets 29, Ravenhill

Heineken Cup Records:

Ulster –
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1998/99: Champions
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B

Scarlets –
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2003/04: Reached the quarter-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the quarter-final play-off
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Ulster to win by less than 7 points