Ulster will take to the pitch with five Magners League debutants in their starting line-up, and three more on the bench, when they welcome the Ospreys to Belfast for this Magners League opener.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, September 3
ULSTER v OSPREYS, Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC NI 2/BBC 2 Wales).
Team News: Fit-again hooker Rory Best will captain Ulster for their opening Magners League game against the Ospreys at Ravenhill.
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has a number of Magners League debutants in his side for the visit of the reigning league champions.
Adam D’Arcy, Tommy Seymour, David McIlwaine, Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg will all make their league debuts from the start, while replacements Paddy McAllister, Ian Porter and Jonny Shiels are also newcomers to this level.
That makes eight new caps for Ulster, and reflects the injuries, unavailability and squad changes that the management have had to oversee.
Australian triallist D’Arcy retains his place at full-back after an impressive showing in last week’s pre-season win over Leeds Carnegie.
Seymour, who starred for the Ulster Ravens last season, switches to the right wing in place of the injured Craig Gilroy (fractured jaw), allowing McIlwaine to come in on the left wing.
The 21-year-old McIlwaine helped Queen’s University win the All-Ireland League Division 3 title last May and has been capped by Ireland at underage level.
Paul Marshall returns at scrum half having recovered from a shoulder injury sustained in the opening friendly against Bath last month.
Up front there is no change to the pack that started against Leeds, with Ireland duo Best and Stephen Ferris successfully coming through their first match back – they got 40 minutes each last Thursday – and Springboks Muller and Wannenburg eager for game-time.
Ireland summer tourists Tom Court and Paddy Wallace have been named on the bench, while young prop McAllister, who sustained neck and back injuries against Bath, has been passed fit to play.
Meanwhile, former All Black Jerry Collins will captain the Ospreys for the start of their league title defence, with winger Richard Fussell making his debut for the Welsh region.
Collins is set for his first game since undergoing knee and shoulder surgery during the summer. The Ospreys are far from full strength, however, with Mike Phillips (knee), Ryan Jones (knee), James Hook (shoulder) and Jonathan Spratt (knee) currently out injured.
The inaugural Magners Player of the Year, Tommy Bowe, will miss out on playing against his native province, and new Ospreys skipper Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones and Tom Prydie are also set to return in the coming weeks.
In all, the Ospreys have retained just five starters from the side that beat Leinster in last season’s grand final – they are centre Andrew Bishop, out-half Dan Biggar and back row trio Collins, Marty Holah and Jonathan Thomas.
But they have two potential match winners on the replacements bench in the form of Wales duo Lee Byrne and Shane Williams.
* Please note that the Ospreys will start the 2010/11 Magners League campaign with a four point deduction following the misconduct charge brought against them by Celtic Rugby last season.
However, an appeal by the Ospreys against their penalty and £100,000 fine will be heard in London next Tuesday.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Tommy Seymour, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine; Niall O’Connor, Paul Marshall; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Paddy McAllister, Ryan Caldwell, Robbie Diack, Ian Porter, Paddy Wallace, Jonny Shiels.
OSPREYS: Gareth Owen; Nikki Walker, Sonny Parker, Andrew Bishop, Richard Fussell; Dan Biggar, Jamie Nutbrown; Ryan Bevington, Mefin Davies, Craig Mitchell, Ian Gough, Ian Evans, Jerry Collins (capt), Marty Holah, Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Huw Bennett, Paul James, Cai Griffiths, James Goode, Ben Lewis, Rhys Webb, Lee Byrne, Shane Williams.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Eanna O’Dowd (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/5; Draw: 19/1; Ospreys to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Stephen Ferris (Ulster) – “I am feeling fit, fresh and injury free and I am really looking forward to the competitive season starting.
“There’s expectations on us and that’s good – it’s something Ulster have never really had over the last number of years.
“It’s always been (a case of others thinking), ‘there are a lot of young kids up in Ulster – let’s see what they can do this year.’
“But with the new signings and that bit of experience, hopefully that will push Ulster forward.
“There are no easy games these days. Every team is so well drilled and the defences are so good that it’s just tough game after tough game. This one will be no different.
“Everyone is expecting a massive performance from the Ospreys so we just have to match and better it.
“Apart from last season’s defeat we have a pretty good (home) record against the Ospreys. It’s always a tight game between us.
“They are littered with international talent. But we are exactly the same this season with our new signings and all the boys in tip-top shape, we’re going to give any team a good run.
“The Leeds game last week was hard to get into because it was stop-start. But I got a bit of the rust shaken off.
“Hopefully against the Ospreys I can carry on where I left off at the end of last season.”
Sean Holley (Ospreys) – “The Magners League is a very competitive tournament now, and justifiably so.
“We’ve always put an emphasis on it as we’ve realised the potential in it. People want to win it, it gives you a lot of kudos. We’ve won it three times, and it’s nice to be able to sit back and say that.
“We want to defend our title, the success in May out in Leinster doesn’t dull that ambition. But, we realise that it won’t be easy.
“We saw at the end of last season that there were seven teams still in the chase for the play-offs and that was good for the competition.
“It’s only going to get even more competitive this season, with the Italian sides coming in, who like some of the other teams have recruited very well.
“Ulster, first up for us, they look as though they’ve really gone for it this year as well. They’ve recruited heavily from the southern Hemisphere since last season and will definitely be a tough nut to crack.
“Ravenhill is never an easy place to go, particularly for the opening game, and I wouldn’t imagine it being any different on Friday.
“We’re able to put a strong team out that we are confident can go out there and compete, despite the restrictions and complications that injury and international duty bring with them, and we’re all really looking forward to just getting on with it now.
“It’s going to be a tough evening to start the season with, but it’s good to be focusing on matchday again after a good pre-season. Kick-off on Friday can’t come soon enough.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 134; Tries: Simon Danielli 8; Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 198; Tries: Tommy Bowe 7
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 21, 2007 – Ulster 17 Ospreys 16, Ravenhill
Friday, March 28, 2008 – Ospreys 32 Ulster 7, Liberty Stadium
Saturday, September 27, 2008 – Ospreys 43 Ulster 0, Liberty Stadium
Friday, April 3, 2009 – Ulster 13 Ospreys 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 12, 2009 – Ospreys 16 Ulster 20, Liberty Stadium
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 – Ulster 27 Ospreys 38, Ravenhill
– Ulster have lost in round one of the Magners League for the past two seasons. The Ulstermen concluded the last campaign with back-to-back victories over Edinburgh and Connacht, but are winless in their last five encounters with Welsh teams
– Defending Magners League champions, the Ospreys, have only once before begun a Magners League season with defeat, in 2007 at the Cardiff Blues, this is despite playing away from home for a fourth successive season
– The Ospreys ended last season with a run of four successive victories, and have won on four of their last five visits to Ireland
– The two teams have met in round one on two previous occasions, with the Ospreys winning 41-30 at the Gnoll in 2003 and Ulster gaining revenge (17-16) at Ravenhill in 2007
– Ulster’s only victory over the Ospreys in their last seven meetings in all competitions was a 20-16 triumph at the Liberty Stadium on September 12, 2009