Fourteen points separate these sides in the Magners League table but the word from both camps is that they are expecting a tight game. Ulster would dearly love to get back to winning ways ahead of the visit of Connacht in two weeks’ time, while Edinburgh’s Magners League play-off hopes need a shot in the arm after last weekend’s loss at the Dragons.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Sunday, April 25
EDINBURGH (6th) v ULSTER (8th), Murrayfield, 4.05pm (live Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made wholesale changes – seven in all – to his team for Sunday’s crucial Magners League clash with Edinburgh.
Ireland hooker Rory Best has recovered from a calf injury to take his place in the Ulster team to face Edinburgh this weekend.
Best will captain the province as they go in search of their first win in seven Magners League games.
Stephen Ferris is also set to start at blindside flanker, having overcome the rib injury which kept him out of last weekend’s 25-18 defeat at Glasgow.
But Paddy Wallace is a notable absentee from McLaughlin’s selection, as a thigh injury keeps him on the sidelines.
The changes in the back-line see Jamie Smith return at full-back, Simon Danielli reverts to the left wing and Niall O’Connor gets the nod over Ian Humphreys for the out-half slot.
Best and Springbok prop BJ Botha will add strength and experience to the front row, with Andi Kyriacou and Declan Fitzpatrick making way.
Ryan Caldwell drops to the replacements bench, with Dan Tuohy drafted into the second row, and Ferris and Willie Faloon have been introduced into the back row, at the expense of Chris Henry and David Pollock.
Looking forward to the Murrayfield encounter, McLaughlin said: “We are all very positive heading over to face Edinburgh. We have played them quite a few times this season, the last time at Ravenhill we gained the points.
“In September, when we faced them in the league, we were narrowly beaten by three points. We had a really strong first half, but just couldn’t sustain it, and that’s been our problem over the last number of games – doing well early on, but just unable to sustain it until the final whistle.
“The players are training hard, and working well together. Everyone knows what is expected of them. Yesterday (Thursday), the Ireland defence coach Les Kiss was up doing a lot of work with us, and our attack is solid.
“So, it is just a matter of going out at Murrayfield on Sunday with the attitude that we can gain the victory.
“We have to be mentally and physically tough and make sure we don’t give away soft, cheap and easy points,” he added.
Meanwhile, openside flanker Roddy Grant, who only signed a professional contract with Edinburgh last summer, will captain the Scottish club for their vital Magners League match against Ulster.
Grant is among four changes, one positional, from the team that started last weekend’s away defeat to the Newport Gwent Dragons.
The other alterations made by Edinburgh coach Rob Moffat see Scotland centre Nick De Luca return from injury to start at outside centre, Greig Laidlaw starting at scrum half with Mike Blair reverting to the bench, and Ben Cairns moving from centre to full-back in place of Jim Thompson who drops to the bench.
Moffat said: “Roddy has been one of our most consistent players this season. He sets high standards for himself and I believe he will demand that of others.
“As a coach you are always looking for leaders, people who are willing to accept responsibility, and Roddy has those characteristics in droves.”
Edinburgh are without the services of two players who played at Rodney Parade last Sunday. Flanker Ross Rennie (hamstring) and winger Simon Webster (Achilles) join long-term casualties Simon Cross (knee), Andrew Easson (knee), Chris Paterson (kidney), Craig Hamilton (head knock) and Ross Samson (arm) on the injury list.
EDINBURGH: Ben Cairns; Tim Visser, Nick De Luca, John Houston, Mark Robertson; Phil Godman, Greig Laidlaw; Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Scott MacLeod, Jim Hamilton, Alan MacDonald, Roddy Grant (capt), Dave Callam.
Replacements: Andrew Kelly, Kyle Traynor, Fraser McKenzie, Scott Newlands, Mike Blair, Andrew Turnbull, Jim Thompson.
ULSTER: Jamie Smith; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli; Niall O’Connor, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Ryan Caldwell, Thomas Anderson, Isaac Boss, Ian Humphreys, Nevin Spence.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Changleng, Bob Nevins (both Scotland)
Television Match Official: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Edinburgh to win: 1/3; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 21/10
Pre-Match Quotes: Paul Marshall (Ulster) – “It’s been really good at training this week. It’s hard every time coming back to training after a loss, we’re looking to improve on things and certainly whatever’s gone on last week is finished now.
“We have to concentrate on Edinburgh now and we’ve had a couple of great training sessions this week. We’ve worked hard and we’ve been studying the game video on Edinburgh, so we’ll have targeted a few areas where we can attack them.
“I think all the games against Edinburgh this season have been tight this year, so we’re expecting another tight game this weekend. We’re at Murrayfield and it’s a hard place to go.
“Like us, the Scottish pride themselves on being very passionate and putting in a good performance at home. It’ll be a tough game, but we know if we play well enough we can beat teams. It’s just a case of doing it for 80 minutes, as opposed to 10 or 20 minutes here and there through matches.
“Both teams have something to play for, Edinburgh are looking to push into the top four and we’re trying to finish as high up the table as we can and make sure we can secure our Heineken Cup spot.
“There’s a lot to play for, so that means the game will probably have a bit of edginess about it. We’ll both be trying to win the game so it should prove to be an entertaining game.”
Roddy Grant (Edinburgh) – “It’s great to be asked to be captain. It (the captaincy] is obviously new at this level, but it’s something I really enjoy.
“I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to it. There are a lot of guys, a lot of caps. It’s great to get the call and when Moff (Rob Moffat) asked me, I was absolutely delighted.
“We all realised that we were very poor last week (against the Dragons) and against Connacht as well. We’re all really eager to get going this weekend and change things. We know what’s at stake here.
“I suppose my job is pretty easy – everyone is really up for it and good to go, so there’s not much motivation needed from my side.
“Hopefully, I’ll lead by example. I’m proud to have been asked to lead the team, but Sunday is about the entire Edinburgh squad setting out our stall and putting in a performance that means we can still strive for that play-off place.
“We’ve faced Ulster on three occasions this season so far, as they were in our pool in the Heineken Cup, and they’ve all been close-fought matches. I believe it will be along similar lines this weekend.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Edinburgh – Points: Chris Paterson 115; Tries: Tim Visser 8; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 108; Tries: Simon Danielli 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, September 18, 2009 – Ulster 13 Edinburgh 16, Ravenhill
– Edinburgh’s last seven matches in all competitions have all been won by the home side on the day
– Edinburgh’s most recent home defeat to a team from outside of Scotland was a 9-8 loss to the Newport Gwent Dragons last November
– Ulster are without a win in their last six games in the Magners League and have never gone through a seven-match winless streak in league history
– The Ulstermen have lost all three games against Scottish opponents in the Magners League this season
– Ulster have already visited Murrayfield this season, losing 17-13 in the Heineken Cup last October. Ulster’s most recent win on Edinburgh soil was a 31-23 success back in February 2006