Ulster have a high finish on their minds as the Magners League comes to an end. With Cardiff in town tonight, Matt Williams’ men will be eager to put one over on the recently-crowned EDF Energy Cup champions and move closer to the top four.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, April 24
ULSTER (6th) v CARDIFF BLUES (8th), Ravenhill, 7.30pm
Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has named his team and replacements to take on Heineken Cup semi-finalists Cardiff Blues this Friday night at Ravenhill.
Williams has named an unchanged pack for the Cardiff game, sticking with the eight forwards who started last week’s one-point win over Glasgow Warriors at Firhill.
One change has been made in the backs, with Ireland ‘A’ centre Darren Cave filling the number 13 jersey, while Academy player Ian Whitten moves back to the bench.
For Ulster’s final home game of the season, Development player Daniel Roach has lost out to Grand Slam winner Tom Court for a place on the bench.
Meanwhile, starting scrum half Paul Marshall is eager to end the season on a high as he tries to maintain his run in the Ulster side.
Marshall, who played for Ireland at last month’s Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament, has had limited game-time this season with Isaac Boss and Cillian Willis his rivals for the province’s number 9 shirt.
“It’s been a frustrating season for me, I’ve only had two starts including last week (against Glasgow),” Marshall told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It’s been because those guys have been playing well and I’ve made a couple of mistakes when I’ve had other opportunities or in training which Matt (Williams) has addressed with me.
“It was great to get 80 minutes against Glasgow and it was great to win the game, again I made a couple of mistakes but on the whole I think it was a positive performance for me and hopefully I’ll get to play again.”
Meanwhile, young Glamorgan Wanderers and Blues Academy member James Loxton will make his debut for the Cardiff Blues at full-back against Ulster.
Loxton played for the Blues and Wales Under-20 sides this season and has also been selected for international duty at this summer’s IRB Junior World Championship.
Scott Andrews, who will captain Wales in that tournament, has been selected for bench duty for the Blues, as have James Down and Ryan Howells after impressing playing for Cardiff RFC this season.
The Blues have 10 internationals in the starting line-up and the game is the final chance for players to put their hands up for selection ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Leicester Tigers.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Simon Danielli, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble; Niall O’Connor, Paul Marshall; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Carlo Del Fava, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, David Pollock, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Matt McCullough, Chris Henry, Isaac Boss, Ian Whitten, Ian Humphreys.
CARDIFF BLUES: James Loxton; Richard Mustoe, Jamie Robinson, Gareth Thomas, Chris Czekaj; Ceri Sweeney, Richie Rees; Rhys Gill, Rhys Thomas, John Yapp, Deiniol Jones, Scott Morgan, Sam Warburton, Robin Sowden Taylor (capt), Andy Powell.
Replacements: Scott Andrews, Ross Jonhson, James Down, Ben White, Darren Allinson, Dai Flanagan, Ryan Howells.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/4; Draw: 20/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 11/4
Say What: Matt Williams (Ulster) – “If we were in this situation next year, then we would have everything still to play for and a chance to have a crack at the title via the play-offs.
“That would mean we would have to win our three remaining games, and probably with a couple of bonus points, if we were to achieve that.
“That is exactly the pressure the players are putting on themselves on Friday night and in the games away to Connacht and the Scarlets.
“And that game against Connacht is also important as it is another big Irish derby, so for anyone to suggest there is nothing at stake, they would be very, very wrong.
“We know the potential of Cardiff and we do not know what they plan to bring to Belfast. But we still have to be better than them and the boys also want to go out and give the home support something to roar about as this is the last home game of the season.
“The supporters have been fantastic this season, particularly at times when it was as frustrating for them as it was for us in some matches.
“We also owe Cardiff one for the 16-15 defeat at the Arms Park when we should really have won the game.”
Andy Powell (Cardiff Blues) – “I could do with 80 minutes. I’m looking forward to the challenge from Ulster at Ravenhill.
“Up until about five weeks ago I was pretty confident (of making the Lions squad), but then I had the knock before the Ireland game.
“That’s rugby for you. Injuries come at the wrong time sometimes. Coming back, I probably doubted myself.
“When I came on in the last two games, I knew that was my final chance to stake a claim and I tried to make the most of it.
“It was just a case of waiting for the announcement then. I’ve been doing my mum and dad’s head in, saying d’o you think I’ll go?’ all the time.
“So it was a great moment when I was selected and I can enjoy it now. My first cap was pretty special, but this is the icing on the cake. It’s probably the Everest, the best you can ever get to.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Ulster: Ian Humphreys 72; Cardiff Blues: Ben Blair 84; Tries: Ulster: Simon Danielli 5; Cardiff Blues: Leigh Halfpenny, Ma’ama Molitika, Ceri Sweeney 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, May 5, 2006 – Ulster 26 Cardiff Blues 17, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 14, 2006 – Ulster 32 Cardiff Blues 12, Ravenhill
Friday, April 20, 2007 – Cardiff Blues 20 Ulster 17, Arms Park
Saturday, April 19, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 30 Ulster 17, Arms Park
Friday, May 9, 2008 – Ulster 17 Cardiff Blues 26, Ravenhill
Friday, September 12, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 16 Ulster 15, Arms Park
– Ulster gained the narrowest of victories, 20-19, at Glasgow last Friday, but have tripped up at Ravenhill in the Magners League in two of their last three matches
– The Ulstermen have lost their last nine games against Welsh opponents in the Magners League since a 20-8 victory over the Scarlets at Ravenhill on March 28, 2008
– Cardiff Blues ensured that the Anglo-Welsh Cup remained in Celtic hands with a comprehensive 50-12 demolition of Gloucester at Twickenham last Saturday
– The Blues’ only defeat in their last eight encounters in all competitions was a 16-3 loss at Edinburgh in the Magners League on April 3. Ulster have lost their last four matches against the Blues