Ulster have an immediate chance to gain revenge on the Cardiff Blues for last week’s 19-9 reversal in the Welsh capital. A home win, preferably with a bonus point, could shoot Brian McLaughlin’s men back into the play-off picture.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, April 3
ULSTER (8th) v CARDIFF BLUES (7th), Ravenhill, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland/S4C)
Team News: Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made three personnel changes for the province’s Magners League encounter with the Cardiff Blues.
In the backs, Ireland international Isaac Boss returns at scrum half. He has overcome a hamstring injury to replace Paul Marshall who drops to the replacements bench.
The pack sees Declan Fitzpatrick come in for Tom Court, who is nursing a neck injury, at loosehead prop.
Ed O’Donoghue will also start in the second row, with Dan Tuohy moving to the replacements.
For Ulster’s second league game against the Blues in the space of a week, number 8 Chris Henry will again captain the team.
Looking forward to the Ravenhill clash, McLaughlin said: “Saturday night is going to be a really big game for us.
“It is one that we have got to turn up to, get our act together and play in front of our own fans at Ravenhill, to show them exactly what we are capable off.
“Training has gone very well this week, despite the weather. We have been fortunate to get the use of the indoor facility at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland at Jordanstown, so our sessions have be very productive.
“We are really looking forward to the weekend because in the last two games we have not done ourselves justice – we have had disappointing displays against the Scarlets and Cardiff.
“We just want to get back to Ravenhill and play the way we can play, and play for our fans.”
Meanwhile, Cardiff Blues boss David Young has made four changes to the side that defeated Ulster 19-9 at Cardiff City Stadium last time out.
In the back-line, Wales and Lions centre Jamie Roberts comes in for the injured Tom Shanklin.
Up front, Sam Warburton starts at openside flanker, Ma’ama Molitika on the blindside and Deiniol Jones returns from injury to start in the second row.
Gareth Williams also returns from injury to take his place on the bench, while fellow front rower John Yapp, who was named in the original 27-man squad, is expected to return to action next weekend.
ULSTER: Jamie Smith; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Niall O’Connor, Isaac Boss; Declan Fitzpatrick, Rory Best, BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, David Pollock, Chris Henry (capt).
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Timoci Nagusa.
CARDIFF BLUES: Ben Blair; Leigh Halfpenny, Casey Laulala, Jamie Roberts, Tom James; Ceri Sweeney, Richie Rees; Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Thomas, Taufa’au Filise, Deiniol Jones, Paul Tito (capt), Ma’ama Molitika, Sam Warburton, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Scott Andrews, Gareth Williams, Andries Pretorius, Martyn Williams, Darren Allinson, Dai Flanagan, Dafydd Hewitt.
Referee: Andy Macpherson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/9; Draw: 20/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 7/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “On Saturday evening discipline will be key, we need to read the breakdown much quicker and make intelligent decisions as to how we defend or attack the opposition ball.
“We must keep the ball in hand and play some strong and smart running rugby.
“If we are going to come away with the win we really need, we’ll have to play out of our socks and be mentally prepared for a real fight.
“We were very disappointed with our performance last Friday so it is great to have this early opportunity to play Cardiff again.
“We have had plenty to work on from last week and have been in Jordanstown for the past two days which has been great.
“We must make sure that we make our home advantage count, and get our Ravenhill support behind us to get as much out of this game as we possibly can.”
David Young (Cardiff Blues) – “We were not happy with the way we played last week but at the end of the day it was a win, so we have to be pleased with that.
“As I said after the match, the result is a lot more important than the performance at this stage of the season.
“We can play a lot better but we also expect Ulster to be a lot better. If we can get the result, it will certainly help our cause.
“We obviously struggled last week as we had a number of players coming back into the team after Welsh duty and it looked as if they hadn’t played together for a number of weeks, which was the case, so we will be looking for a big improvement this week.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 98; Tries: Simon Danielli 5; Cardiff Blues – Points: Ben Blair 121; Tries: Tom James 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, April 24, 2009 – Ulster 9 Cardiff Blues 11, Ravenhill
Friday, March 26, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 19 Ulster 9, Cardiff City Stadium
– Ulster are winless in their last three matches since beating Bath 28-10 at the Rec in the Heineken Cup on January 23, while their only reversal at Ravenhill since mid-September was a 25-13 loss to Glasgow Warriors in the Magners League on December 4
– The Cardiff Blues have won two of their last three encounters in the Magners League, and have been victorious in their last three away matches in all competitions
– The Cardiff Blues have won their last six fixtures against Ulster since the Ulstermen gained a 32-12 victory at Ravenhill on October 14, 2006. The Blues were the last Welsh side to win at Ravenhill (11-9) in this equivalent fixture last season
– However, the Blues have been defeated on all of their three trips to Ireland so far this season