Judging by their pre-match interviews, Ulster’s players are very eager to right the wrongs of last weekend’s poor display against Leinster as they welcome the title-chasing Ospreys to Ravenhill. A win tonight could move Matt Williams’ men back into the top five of the Magners League.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, April 3
ULSTER (6th) v OSPREYS (3rd), Ravenhill, 7.35pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/Setanta Sports 2/BBC Wales)
Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has named his starting team and replacements for Friday’s Magners League match against the Ospreys at Ravenhill.
Williams has made a number of changes to the team that faced Leinster at the RDS last Sunday.
Out-half Niall O’Connor replaces Ian Humphreys at number 10, with Humphreys dropping out of the matchday squad.
Robbie Diack is back in the starting line-up at number 8. The South African’s inclusion in the back row sees Chris Henry move to blindside flanker and Matt McCullough drops back to the replacements bench.
Grand Slam squad member Tom Court will start Friday’s game on the bench, with Bryan Young pencilled in at loosehead prop, alongside team captain Rory Best and World Cup winner BJ Botha.
Meanwhile, Ulster fans have been robbed of the chance to give Ospreys winger Tommy Bowe a hearty welcome back to Belfast.
Grand Slam winner Bowe has been rested by Sean Holley, ahead of next week’s Heineken Cup quarter-final trip to Munster.
The Ospreys management are also resting the likes of Wales captain Ryan Jones and IRB Player of the Year Shane Williams, with their Wales team-mates Gavin Henson and Lee Byrne both out with injuries.
But the visitors, who have a game in hand on table-toppers Munster, have plenty of potential match winners in their starting line-up, including the likes of James Hook, Jonny Vaughton and Filo Tiatia.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Simon Danielli, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble; Niall O’Connor, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Chris Henry, David Pollock, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Carlo Del Fava, Matt McCullough, Cillian Willis, Ian Whitten, Timoci Nagusa.
OSPREYS: Gareth Owen; David Bishop, Jonathan Spratt, Andrew Bishop, Jonny Vaughton; James Hook, Mike Phillips; Paul James (capt), Huw Bennett, Cai Griffiths, Alun Wyn Jones, Andy Lloyd, Tom Smith, Steve Tandy, Filo Tiatia.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Ryan Bevington, Filipo Levi, Marty Holah, Jamie Nutbrown, Dan Biggar, Sonny Parker.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/9; Draw: 20/1; Ospreys to win: 7/4
Say What: David Pollock (Ulster) – “All of the guys were gutted (after the Leinster defeat). We had stuck with the Leinster team for a large part of the game but they came out at half-time, all guns blazing, and we just couldn’t match them.
“We missed a few tackles and made a few crucial mistakes, which a team like that will punish you for. It was a disappointing game;
“The Ospreys, this week, they are a great team. I think we are all looking forward to moving away from last week’s performance…to put it behind us and move ahead.
“We have a great track record with regards to home wins, our performances at Ravenhill are a lot stronger than those played away, and so I’m looking forward to giving it all we’ve got on Friday. It should be a great game.”
Mike Phillips (Ospreys) – “We have to come through Ulster on Friday and it is a chance for us to put things right (after losing to Gloucester in the EDF Energy Cup).
“Ravenhill is a very difficult place to go and play, but a win can set us up for next week against Munster and give us some self belief.
“It is a massive opportunity for us out in Munster. We have to be confident going out there because if we don’t we are not going to win.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Ulster: Ian Humphreys 72; Ospreys: James Hook 95; Tries: Ulster: Darren Cave 4; Ospreys: James Hook, Nikki Walker 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, September 27, 2008 – Ospreys 43 Ulster 0, Liberty Stadium
– Ulster’s sole win in their last four Magners League matches was a 12-0 triumph over Glasgow at Ravenhill on March 7
– Matt Williams’ side have won five of their last six games in Belfast in all competitions, but Ulster have lost their last eight games against Welsh opposition in the Magners League – since their 20-8 victory against the Scarlets at Ravenhill on February 29, 2008
– The Ospreys have won just one of their last three games in the Magners League and have not won outside of Wales in the league since a trip to Glasgow on September 12
– The Welsh region’s only win in their last five visits to Ireland was a 16-3 success against Connacht in Galway on May 9 last
– The Ospreys have won their last four encounters with Ulster in all competitions since the Irish province won 17-16 at Ravenhill in the league on September 21, 2007