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Heineken Cup Preview: Scarlets v Ulster

Heineken Cup Preview: Scarlets v Ulster

A recent resurgence has seen Ulster win their last four matches – two Magners League victories over Munster and Connacht, a friendly defeat of Portugal and a first ever European success over the Scarlets. On Friday they face the Welshmen again as they look to stay in the hunt for the Heineken Cup’s last-eight.

HEINEKEN CUP – POOL 4: Friday, December 12

SCARLETS v ULSTER, Parc y Scarlets, 8pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1 Interactive)

Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has announced a strong side to travel to Wales to take on the Scarlets in Friday’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 showdown at Parc y Scarlets

Williams will be keen to build on last weekend’s 26-16 victory over the Scarlets at Ravenhill and has named a very similar side, with only two changes to the starting line-up.

Paddy Wallace returns to inside centre with player-coach Paul Steinmetz dropping back to the replacements bench.

Cillian Willis is ruled out after fracturing his cheekbone in training earlier this week, so Ireland international Isaac Boss will start at scrum half and Belfast Harlequins clubman Paul Marshall will provide back-up on the bench.

Clinton Schifcofske also returns to the squad following his recovery from an achilles injury which sidelined him for the last two months. Mark McCrea is the player to make way.

Giving his thoughts on what is another must-win game, Williams said: “There are a number of challenges that I wanted to take on this year that were much more mental than physical, winning away from home in Europe and the Magners League is something we have just got to address.

“The field is exactly the same size, the same width and there is no reason for it. That we have never done it is not an excuse. It is completely irrelevant.

“For professionals who have beaten Munster at home, Edinburgh at home and beat a very good Llanelli side at home and then to say, ‘ah, but away we can’t win’, is not acceptable.

“It is not acceptable to me, it is not acceptable to anyone within the organisation. I told the boys that it is purely mental.

“They have got to front it up. We are staying in the hotel that we like, which we go to all the time, we know our opposition, we have played them twice, won once and lost closely, and there is no reason for us to go there with any sort of baggage.

“Like I said to the guys when I was at Leinster, we couldn’t win in France. Now they win in France all the time. You just have to do it.

“We are very proud of our supporters but it is not about them. It is about how the team goes out. It is 80 minutes of concentration, which is mental. It is not a physical thing. We are finishing games very strongly, our fitness is great.”

SCARLETS: Rhys Priestland; Darren Daniel, Regan King, Jon Davies, Mark Jones; Stephen Jones, Martin Roberts; Phil John, Matthew Rees, Deacon Manu, Vernon Cooper, Dominic Day, Dafydd Jones, Simon Easterby (capt), David Lyons.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Aled Hopkins, Scott MacLeod, Jon Edwards, Gavin Cattle, Ceiron Thomas, Lee Williams.

ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; 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, Paul Marshall, Paul Steinmetz, Clinton Schifcofske.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Touch Judges: Cedric Marchat, Bernard Dal Maso (both France)
Television Match Official: Jean-Christophe Gastou (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 4/7; Draw: 18/1; Ulster to win: 11/8

Pre-Match Quotes: Robbie Diack (Ulster) – “We had never beaten the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup before last Friday and the guys really wanted it and it paid off.

“It may not have been our best performance of the season but it meant the most to us. But I think there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“And we just want to pull everything from the victory and take it with us to Llanelli. We are working really hard this week and hopefully make the improvements in time for Friday’s match.

“Every game we are gelling more as a unit and a team. We are just getting used to different combinations, whether it be locks or loose forwards or centres.

“We are also establishing a strong bond and we are very confident that we can go to the Scarlets and get a win, especially when we know there is real room for improvement.”

Heineken Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Scarlets: Tries: Mark Jones, Ceiron Thomas 2 each; Points: Stephen Jones 26; Ulster: Tries: Paddy Wallace 2; Points: Niall O’Connor, Ian Humphreys 11each

Current Form – 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; (Heineken Cup): Lost 26-16 away to Ulster

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; (Heineken Cup): Won 26-16 at home to the Scarlets

Previous European Meetings: 5

Friday, December 5, 208 – Pool 4 – Ulster 26 Scarlets 16, Ravenhill
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:

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

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

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