For Brian McLaughlin’s first competitive home match as Ulster coach, the province will face a tough task as they entertain table-topping Edinburgh. But Ulster will be bolstered by the return of Ireland and Lions flanker Stephen Ferris to their back row, as well as the addition of Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble to the bench.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, September 18
ULSTER (8th) v EDINBURGH (1st), Ravenhill, 8pm (live Setanta Sports 1)
Team News: Rugby comes home to Ravenhill on Friday as Ulster face Edinburgh in their first home game of the new Magners League campaign.
With the return of Grand Slam winner and Lions tourist Stephen Ferris in the number 6 jersey, Ulster’s stand-in captain Chris Henry moves to number 8, while Robbie Diack starts on the replacements bench.
Belfast Harlequins clubman Neil McComb comes into the team to make his senior debut for the province, replacing the injured Dan Tuohy in the second row.
No changes have been made in the backs, from the Ian Humphreys-led line-up that impressed in last weekend’s surprise win at the Ospreys.
On the bench, Niall O’Connor and Jonny Shiels have been replaced by the experienced Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble, who spent the earlier part of the week in Dublin at an Ireland training camp.
Along with Tuohy, David Pollock, Bryn Cunningham, Ryan Caldwell, Rory Best and Matt McCullough are all currently out injured.
Commenting on his first competitive home match as Ulster coach, Brian McLaughlin said: “We came out all guns blazing last weekend against the Ospreys, and performed very well.
“We must play like this time and time again, maintaining that level of play and driving it forward.
“Our defence was good, our set pieces were strong, our passing was more accurate and our finishing was clinical.
“There are always areas in which we can improve, and most importantly we need to ensure there is continuity in our game week in, week out.
“We know there are no easy games in professional rugby anymore – they are all hard-fought, down to the wire.
“We can’t afford to go out and play under par, we must be punching our weight every time we play and for the full 80 minutes.
“With every game played, we must make sure that we do both ourselves and our supporters justice, and this is especially important in front of our home crowd.”
Meanwhile, Edinburgh coach Rob Moffat has made three changes to his team for the trip across the water to Belfast.
Tim Visser, Ross Ford and Kyle Traynor all come back into the starting line-up.
Dutch winger Visser, who was a try scorer on his debut at Cardiff, replaces Andrew Turnbull on the left wing, while Lions hooker Ford and Traynor have been preferred to Andrew Kelly and Allan Jacobsen in the front row.
Lions scrum half Mike Blair remains on the replacements bench. He was introduced midway through the second half of last weekend’s heavy defeat of Connacht.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Andy Kyriacou, BJ Botha, Neil McComb, Ed O’Donoghue, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry (capt).
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Tamaiti Horua, Robbie Diack, Cillian Willis, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble.
EDINBURGH: Chris Paterson; Mark Robertson, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Tim Visser; Phil Godman, Greig Laidlaw; Kyle Traynor, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Craig Hamilton, Scott MacLeod, Alan MacDonald, Roddy Grant, Allister Hogg (capt).
Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Allan Jacobsen, Steve Turnbull, Scott Newlands, Mike Blair, Nick De Luca, Steve Jones.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Keane, Kevin Beggs (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 8/11; Draw: 20/1; Edinburgh to win: 11/10
Say What: Stephen Ferris (Ulster) – “I’ll be delighted to be back in an Ulster shirt come Friday, it’s been hard watching the guys from the sidelines, wishing you were out there with them and part of the team, especially last Saturday.
“I have been itching for game-time from the pre-season friendlies. It’s hard to be training with the squad in the run-up to big games, knowing you won’t get your chance to play.
“I knew I would miss the first few Magners games, so I have been focused on getting in peak condition for when the call came.
“It will be great to start my first game this season in front of a home crowd – the atmosphere at Ravenhill always helps, there’s a great buzz about the ground, especially with the new stand being open for the game.
“All the guys are focused on giving a performance on Friday, we know Edinburgh are a powerful side and that we need to turn up and play at full strength for the full 80 minutes. We’re all ready to take Ulster to the play-offs this season.”
Ben Cairns (Edinburgh) – “Nobody is getting carried away after just two games, but we are pleased with the progress we have made so far this season.
“Playing away at Ulster is one of the most difficult tests in the Magners League and we realise that we will have to be at the top of our game in order to achieve another positive result.
“When we won there in 2007 it was a really important result for the team in terms of our development and in terms of learning how to win away from home.
“We will be looking to carry on the momentum we have generated over the first two matches at Ulster.”
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 15, 2006 – Edinburgh 20 Ulster 15, Murrayfield
Friday, May 11, 2007 – Ulster 16 Edinburgh 10, Ravenhill
Friday, September 28, 2007 – Edinburgh 24 Ulster 10, Murrayfield
Friday, November 30, 2007 – Ulster 14 Edinburgh 20, Ravenhill
Friday, October 3, 2008 – Ulster 13 Edinburgh 9, Ravenhill
Friday, January 9, 2009 – Edinburgh 21 Ulster 15, Murrayfield
– Ulster return to Ravenhill for the first time since April, following four successive away matches. Ulster have lost their last two games in Belfast since a 12-0 victory over Glasgow Warriors in the Magners League on March 7 last
– The Ulstermen have won three of their last four games against Scottish teams
– Edinburgh, who are riding high at the top of the league table, recorded their eighth straight league victory against Connacht at Murrayfield last Friday
– Edinburgh have won their last three games against Irish opponents, but have lost on five of their last six visits to Ireland
– Each team won its respective home game when the two sides met in the Magners League last season. Edinburgh’s only win in their last six visits to Ravenhill was a 20-14 success there on November 30, 2007