Glasgow Warriors did the double over Ulster last season but they are struggling for form of late, so Brian McLaughlin’s men will fancy their chances of making it a winning night for centurion Rory Best and debutant Ruan Pienaar.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, October 1
ULSTER (4th) v GLASGOW WARRIORS (10th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTE 2/BBC ALBA)
Team News: Ulster hooker and captain Rory Best will make his 100th senior appearance for the province when he takes to the Ravenhill pitch for Friday’s Magners League encounter with Glasgow Warriors.
Chalking up a century of competitive caps is something that must be made sweeter by the fact that at this stage last season Best was recovering from surgery on a serious neck injury.
“Quite a few players have reached the 100-cap mark and I guess, because there are so many games, reaching that milestone is maybe not as big an achievement as it used to be,” he told the News Letter.
“But for me it is a huge honour to have played 100 competitive games for Ulster and it means so much to me.”
He added: “The perfect cap to the night would be to lead the side to a win, maintain our unbeaten start to the Magners League season and build us up perfectly for another Heineken Cup campaign next week.”
In the backs, Paddy Wallace has been restored to the inside centre position after playing at out-half against Connacht last weekend. Andrew Trimble also switches wings from the left to the right.
Scotland winger Simon Danielli returns to action following shoulder surgery in the summer, while new signing Ruan Pienaar will make his much-anticipated debut in front of the Ravenhill crowd in the scrum half position.
He will partner Niall O’Connor at half-back, with O’Connor coming in as an indirect replacement for Ian Whitten.
Up front, Ulster retain Bryan Young, Best and Tom Court in the front row, while Johann Muller, who was rested for last weekend’s match, returns to the second row, linking up with Dan Tuohy.
In the back row, Pedrie Wannenburg, another of the Springbok contingent, moves to cover the blindside berth in the absence of the injured Stephen Ferris. Chris Henry retains the openside slot, and Robbie Diack is back at number 8.
With three props – BJ Botha, Declan Fitzpatrick and Adam Macklin – currently on the injured list, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has called on Alan Whitten. who plays his club rugby for Instonians. The provincial newcomer has been named among the replacements, alongside his brother Ian.
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors have named an unchanged starting line-up for Friday night’s tussle with Ulster.
The only matchday changes are on the replacements bench where front rowers Pat MacArthur and Ryan Grant have been selected ahead of international duo Dougie Hall and Kevin Tkachuk respectively.
Aly Muldowney also comes in for Ryan Wilson, while former Ulster centre Rob Dewey returns from a hand injury to take the place of Peter Horne.
Scotland Under-20 starlet Duncan Weir retains the number 10 jersey, after some impressive moments in last weekend’s home defeat to Munster.
ULSTER: Jamie Smith; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Niall O’Connor, Ruan Pienaar; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), Tom Court, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Alan Whitten, Tim Barker, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten.
GLASGOW WARRIORS: Bernardo Stortoni; DTH van der Merwe, Max Evans, Graeme Morrison, Federico Aramburu; Duncan Weir, Colin Gregor; Jon Welsh, Fergus Thomson, Moray Low, Tom Ryder, Richie Gray, Robert Harley, John Barclay (capt). Richie Vernon.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Ryan Grant, Ed Kalman, Aly Muldowney, Calum Forrester, Henry Pyrgos, Ruaridh Jackson, Rob Dewey.
Referee: Stefano Penne (Italy)
Assistant Referees: David Keane, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/5; Draw: 25/1; Glasgow Warriors to win: 10/3
Pre-Match Quotes: Paddy Wallace (Ulster) – “There’s a lot more to come from this squad. Results so far show the depth we have in the squad now.
“When international players haven’t been available, or Stevie (Ferris) has been injured or BJ (Botha) has been out – and Ruan’s only joining us now, remember – we’ve still been able to win matches without those guys.
“That’s very encouraging. We’ve played four games, we’re unbeaten and we haven’t had our full side out yet.
“To be where we are in the table, in those circumstances, probably is something we would not have been capable of in previous seasons. As players we can take great heart from that and I think our supporters can too.
“Of course, a few injuries could change things very quickly as we could be struggling in a few areas.
“But there’s probably more cause for optimism than before because we do have that extra strength in depth. If there are injuries then it’s up to those who come in to do their job in keeping with that winning mentality we’re developing.
“Winning – or not losing – is a habit. Munster have that and in recent seasons Leinster have developed it too.
“I think the signings we have made this year will help us in that respect because having come from successful teams they have brought a winning habit with them.”
Sean Lineen (Glasgow Warriors) – “I’ve been really pleased with the attitude of the players and training this week has been outstanding. The players know the wins will come, we just need to keep pushing each other along and keep believing.
“The players have been doing a lot of good things in the games we’ve played so far. It would be difficult if we couldn’t pinpoint what wasn’t going up to speed.
“We can’t fault the players’ effort at all, it’s just decisions and some skills at key times just not coming off.
“It’s a very young forward pack. We’re making errors and we’re getting punished for them, and you’d expect that. But as long as we’re learning, that’s the key.
“I’m expecting a really physical affair on Friday. We’ve had a bit of good fortune over there in the last couple of years but Ulster have recruited well and have started the campaign well.
“Ravenhill is a great place to play, a really good atmosphere. It can be a bit like Glasgow so it’s something that we’re pretty used to.
“But Ulster have really stepped up in terms of their physicality and their ambition and how they’re playing the game.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Niall O’Connor 51; Tries: Darren Cave 2; Glasgow Warriors – Points: Ruaridh Jackson, Duncan Weir 27 each; Tries: DTH van der Merwe 2
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, November 2, 2007 – Glasgow Warriors 25 Ulster 6, Firhill Stadium
Saturday, May 3, 2008 – Ulster 24 Glasgow Warriors 35, Ravenhill
Saturday, March 7, 2009 – Ulster 12 Glasgow Warriors 0, Ravenhill
Friday, April 17, 2009 – Glasgow Warriors 19 Ulster 20, Firhill Stadium
Friday, December 4, 2009 – Ulster 13 Glasgow Warriors 25, Ravenhill
Friday, April 16, 2010 – Glasgow Warriors 25 Ulster 18, Firhill Stadium
– Ulster remain unbeaten in this season’s Magners League following their 15-15 draw with Connacht at the Sportsground last Saturday
– Ulster have not lost in the Magners League since they visited Glasgow back on April 16
– Glasgow Warriors have slipped to three straight Magners League defeats, and have won just once on the road in the competition since January 2 – they won 37-32 at the Scarlets in May
– Glasgow did the double over Ulster last season, and have an excellent recent record at Ravenhill with three wins in their last four visits