2009 Lion Stephen Ferris, the recent winner of the Magners Personality of the Year award at the Ulster Rugby Awards, will sit out the province’s final Magners League game of the season but coach Matt Williams still has plenty of quality players at his disposal as Ulster chase an elusive win over Welsh opposition.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, May 16
SCARLETS v ULSTER, Parc y Scarlets, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports 2/S4C)
Team News: Ulster coach Matt Williams has handed the captaincy to hooker Nigel Brady for Saturday’s Magners League encounter with the Scarlets, as regular skipper Rory Best is nursing a thigh injury.
After his performance in Ulster’s win at Connacht last week, Isaac Boss will once again start at full-back with Clinton Schifcofske, the kicker of the match-winning penalty in Galway, taking to the bench.
Declan Fitzpatrick will start at tighthead prop, due to BJ Botha’s neck injury, while Ian Whitten starts at inside centre, as Paddy Wallace recovers from a head injury.
Matt McCullough is back starting at blindside flanker, while Stephen Ferris is rested ahead of the British & Irish Lions our to South Africa.
Along with Best, Botha and Wallace, Andrew Trimble (knee), Bryn Cunningham (cheek), David Pollock (hip) and departing duo Paul Steinmetz (shoulder) and Kieron Dawson (knee) will miss the game due to injury.
Ulster head into their final Magners League clash in sixth position in the table, while Scarlets, in seventh, are only one point behind.
Meanwhile, former New Zealand prop Kees Meeuws returns to the Scarlets line-up for the first time since he suffered an Achilles injury against Munster in November.
This weekend he partners Phil John and hooker Ken Owens in the front row. Head coach Nigel Davies has opted for youth in the second row, with the 21-year-old Lou Reed and 23-year-old Dominic Day. The selected flankers are new Wales call-up Rob McCusker, aged 23, and Johnathan Edwards (25).
Ever present number 8 and former Wallaby David Lyons keeps the captaincy with Simon Easterby starting on the bench with knee surgery fresh in the memory.
2009 Lions squad members Matthew Rees and Stephen Jones are rested along with Wales tourists Jonathan Davies, Dafydd Jones, Mark Jones.
Lee Williams also keeps his wing berth after a two-try man-of-the-match performance against the Cardiff Blues last Wednesday.
SCARLETS: Daniel Evans; Darren Daniel, Nick Reynolds, Rob Higgitt, Lee Williams; Rhys Priestland, Martin Roberts; Iestyn Thomas, Ken Owens, Kees Meeuws, Lou Reed, Dominic Day, Rob McCusker, Johnathan Edwards, David Lyons (capt).
Replacements: Phil John, Emyr Phillips, Aaron Shingler, Simon Easterby, Josh Turnbull, Gavin Cattle, Ceiron Thomas.
ULSTER: Isaac Boss: Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli; Niall O’Connor, Cillian Willis; Bryan Young, Nigel Brady (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Matt McCullough, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Neil Hanna, Justin Fitzpatrick, Carlo Del Fava, Willie Faloon, Ian Humphreys, Mark McCrea, Clinton Schifcofske.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Jon Mason, Ken Bowen (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Huw Lewis (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 8/15; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 6/4
Say What: Matt Williams (Ulster) – “The Scarlets are having to play three matches in a week and that can be very demanding.
“I remember we were in a similar situation last season and by the end of the third match we were absolutely out on our feet.
“We drew with them this season over there in the Heineken Cup, a game we should have won so it would be great if we could put one over on them this time.
“This is a very young Ulster side and victory in Wales would do wonders for their self belief.”
Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “We’re not going to congratulate ourselves on qualifying for Europe last Wednesday but I think the youngsters that night showed the enormous potential within this squad. They have got to have belief now and we’ve got to move forward.
“We have to kick on from here, the boys can take a lot of confidence out of Wednesday and we have to put in a big performance again against Ulster.
“This season has been tough for the supporters, but the Cardiff result gave them something to shout about and hopefully we can do the same against Ulster.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Scarlets: Stephen Jones 104; Ulster: Ian Humphreys 78; Tries: Scarlets: Martin Roberts 5; Ulster: Simon Danielli 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, May 19, 2006 – Scarlets 12 Ulster 12, Stradey Park
Saturday, September 2, 2006 – Ulster 31 Scarlets 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Scarlets 17 Ulster 11, Stradey Park
Friday, October 12, 2007 – Scarlets 32 Ulster 8, Stradey Park
Friday, February 29, 2008 – Ulster 20 Scarlets 8, Ravenhill
Friday, September 5, 2008 – Ulster 9 Scarlets 16, Ravenhill
– The Scarlets visited the Cardiff Blues on Wednesday, evening scoring a bonus point 30-9 win which guaranteed their place in next season’s Heineken Cup
– The Welshmen have won just one of their last four games at Parc y Scarlets (13-6 over Edinburgh on March 8). The Scarlets’ only win in their last seven matches in all competitions against Irish opposition was a 17-14 success at Connacht on January 9
– Ulster’s away form has been better than their home form of late with successive wins away from Ravenhill and successive defeats in Belfast. Ulster have not won three successive away games since the 2005/06 season
– The Ulstermen have lost their last ten encounters with Welsh teams in the Magners League since a 20-8 home victory over the Scarlets on February 29, 2008
– Ulster have not won in Wales since a trip to Newport to face the Dragons on September 9, 2006. The teams have met on three occasions this season, once in the Magners League and twice in Europe, with honours even at a win apiece and a draw