Round 10 of the Magners League wraps up with Saturday evening’s clash between Ulster and Munster at Ravenhill. Munster’s bonus point win over Connacht saw them return to the play-off zone and they would no doubt like to consolidate their position. Ulster, on the other hand, will be keen to halt the slide down the table they have experienced since they were league leaders after round 6. Plenty at stake in Belfast, with a capacity crowd expected.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, January 2
ULSTER (7th) v MUNSTER (4th), Ravenhill, 6.30pm (live Setanta Sports 1)
Team News: Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named his team and replacements for Saturday’s Magners League derby clash with Munster at Ravenhill.
A number of changes have been made to the team that played Leinster last weekend. Ulster’s four Irish squad members – Stephen Ferris, Tom Court, Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble – all return to front line duty.
Trimble replaces Timoci Nagusa on the right wing, Wallace comes in for Darren Cave in the centre and Ian Humphreys will start at out-half, with Niall O’Connor returning to the bench.
Phoenix Ulster Rugby Academy player Jamie Smith retains his place at full-back and is set to make his home debut in front of a capacity Ravenhill crowd.
Up front, Bryan Young makes way for Court at loosehead prop, with Nigel Brady and BJ Botha retained at hooker and tighthead prop respectively.
The second row is unchanged. The returning Ferris starts at blindside flanker, with Willie Faloon at openside and Chris Henry will once again captain the side from number 8.
Meanwhile, Munster coach Tony McGahan has made six changes to his team, two of those positional switches, for Saturday’s Magners League meeting with Ulster.
Two of the six changes are forced on McGahan by the injuries to Felix Jones in last weekend’s game against Connacht and to Nick Williams, who sustained a knee injury at training on Tuesday.
Denis Hurley switches from the wing where he has impressed in the last three games to full-back, while James Coughlan should prove a more than able replacement for his Dolphin club colleague Williams in the number 8 slot.
The other change up front sees Wian du Preez replace the injured Julien Brugnaut (groin), while McGahan’s bench has a decidedly youthful look to it drawn as it is from either Academy or Development players – the only exception being Tom Gleeson who loses out to Lifeimi Mafi in a reshuffled back-line.
With Ronan O’Gara amongst the players being rested as part of the IRFU Player Management Programme, Paul Warwick slips into the number 10 jersey and Mick O’Driscoll will captain the side in the absence of regular skipper Paul O’Connell.
ULSTER: Jamie Smith; Andrew Trimble, Ian Whitten, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry (capt).
Replacements: Andy Kyriacou, Declan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Caldwell, Thomas Anderson, Cillian Willis, Niall O’Connor, Timoci Nagusa.
MUNSTER: Denis Hurley; Doug Howlett, Lifeimi Mafi, Jean de Villiers, Ian Dowling; Paul Warwick, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll (capt), Donnacha Ryan, Billy Holland, Niall Ronan, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Stephen Archer, Peter O’Mahony, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, Scott Deasy, Tom Gleeson.
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Alan Rogan (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 8/15; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 6/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “We were very disappointed after last weekend in Dublin. I thought that we competed well but should have made a lot more of our scoring opportunities – we definitely deserved at least something from that game.
“It is Munster this Saturday, a home match at Ravenhill. We have to make sure we are up for the game, we have to compete and we have to make sure we beat them at Ravenhill.
“We have to go to town with them up front and we have to show that we are more than capable of dealing with them.
“In our last three games we have created a lot of chances. We had lots of chances against Stade Francais away and Leinster away. Against Stade at home we created chances and didn’t take some of them but we took the vital ones that gave us the victory.
“At training this week we have worked hard in certain areas of the pitch, we’ve put down patterns of play we’ll be using and it’s just a matter of us holding onto the football and making the best use of it possible.”
Shaun Payne (Munster) – “Obviously the double loss to Ulster last season isn’t forgotten in a hurry. Those hurt a lot.
“Ulster are an excellent side. They can attack you from anywhere on the pitch, they have exciting young players, some guys really coming through.
“Obviously they have players like (Stephen) Ferris, but I think (Ian) Humphreys as well is someone who is really doing well. They have (Darren) Cave in the centre too and a couple of really exciting back-line players and an excellent back row.
“We lost to them twice last season so I don’t need to be talking them up at all and we know that the job that faces us, especially up there at Ravenhill.
“We haven’t had a whole heap of success up there and this is always a massive game for us.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 78; Tries: Simon Danielli, Ian Humphreys, Timoci Nagusa, Andrew Trimble 2 each; Munster – Points: Jeremy Manning 30; Tries: Nick Williams 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, March 23, 2007 – Ulster 21 Munster 24, Ravenhill
Saturday, March 22, 2008 – Munster 42 Ulster 6, Musgrave Park
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 – Ulster 19 Munster 9, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 25, 2008 – Ulster 22 Munster 6, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 3, 2009 – Munster 11 Ulster 37, Thomond Park
Saturday, October 31, 2009 – Munster 24 Ulster 10, Thomond Park
– Ulster have slipped to three straight defeats in the Magners League, but have lost just one of their seven most recent encounters with fellow Irish provinces at Ravenhill (a 21-13 defeat to Leinster in December 2008)
– Munster have won their last three games in all competitions since a 19-14 reversal at the Ospreys on December 5
– The Munstermen’s only win on the road in the Magners League this season was a 22-20 success at the Scarlets on September 19
– Munster have won just once away from home against an Irish province in their last six encounters (an 18-0 victory at Leinster in September 2008)
– Munster are going for a first Magners League double over Ulster since the 2006/07 season. They have won only once at Ravenhill since 2004