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European Champions Cup Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

European Champions Cup Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

After losing their first two games in Pool 3, Ulster know exactly what they have to do in order to give themselves a mathematical chance of reaching the Champions Cup quarter-finals. Their recovery missions begins at home to the Scarlets on Saturday.


ULSTER (4th) v SCARLETS (2nd), Kingspan Stadium, 7.45pm (live BT Sport 2/BBC Radio Ulster MW/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Ruan Pienaar and Dan Tuohy have recovered from injury and have been named in the Ulster team to face the Scarlets in the European Champions Cup at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night.

It will be Ruan Pienaar’s first appearance of the season, while Dan Tuohy returns having suffered a broken arm against Cardiff Blues in September.

In total, Ulster head coach Neil Doak has made four changes to the side that lost narrowly to Munster in Limerick, with Ireland internationals Tommy Bowe and Robbie Diack also returning to the starting line-up.

The front row remains unchanged with Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst starting either side of hooker and captain Rory Best.

Tuohy returns alongside Franco van der Merwe in the second row and Roger Wilson, who will make his 40th European appearance for Ulster, is selected at openside flanker. Nick Williams continues at number 8 and Diack comes in on the blindside.

In the backs, Pienaar and Ian Humphreys start together at half-back for the first time since Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster in 2012, while Stuart Olding moves from full-back to inside centre to feature alongside Darren Cave.

Craig Gilroy starts on the left wing with his Ireland colleague Bowe on the right, while Louis Ludik begins the game at full-back.

Forwards Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Alan O’Connor and Clive Ross join backs Paul Marshall, Stuart McCloskey and Michael Allen on the replacements bench.

Tickets for this BT Sport 2-televised fixture are still available. It is recommended that you buy in advance making use of the print at home function, meaning you will not have to queue at the match.

To buy a ticket, please click here. Tickets for limited areas of the ground will be available from the ticket booth on Onslow Parade from 6pm on Saturday evening, starting at £25 per adult and £15 for a child.

Meanwhile, the Scarlets have welcomed the return of their international players ahead of this weekend’s crucial Champions Cup trip to Belfast.

Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has made four changes – one positional – to the team that outmuscled Leicester Tigers at Parc y Scarlets in the second round.

All Black centre Regan King features at outside centre after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, having made his return to action away to Connacht last weekend, while Michael Tagicakibau reverts to the left wing.

In the pack Jake Ball returns to the second row having been a late casualty ahead of the last round and man of the moment James Davies replaces John Barclay at openside flanker.

ULSTER: Louis Ludik; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best (capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Roger Wilson, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Alan O’Connor, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Michael Allen.

SCARLETS: Liam Williams; Harry Robinson, Regan King, Scott Williams (capt), Michael Tagicakibau; Rhys Priestland, Aled Davies; Rob Evans, Emyr Phillips, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, Johan Snyman, Aaron Shingler, James Davies, Rory Pitman.

Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Phil John, Rhodri Jones, George Earle, Lewis Rawlins, Rhodri Williams, Steven Shingler, Gareth Owen.

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Gareth Copsey (both England)
Television Match Official: Trevor Fisher (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/6; Draw: 25/1; Scarlets to win: 4/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Robbie Diack (Ulster) – “We have had two disappointing results in the opening games (in Europe), but we know the importance of winning and especially our home games, and that starts this weekend.

“We cannot really think of bonus points we just want to win and we will have to be at our best. The Scarlets have a strong team, we’ll be able to see where things are on the field and whether we can push for the bonus point or not.

“We have had a good look at them (on video analysis) and we played them earlier in the season and it was a tough game over there and luckily we came back and got a draw. There were eight tries scored in that game in Llanelli.

“They have a huge and experienced pack, a lot of them played against the Springboks last weekend – to physically bully the Springboks is a huge feather in their cap. So, we know what we are up against and we have to be at our best to compete with them.

“I had a fantastic couple of weeks at the Ireland camp. It was fantastic to be involved in the Georgia game. Even though I wasn’t part of the two big games with South Africa and Australia, it was just great to get 80 minutes and contribute to a successful series.

“I was excited to be back with Ulster and be around my friends and the team environment, to get 20 minutes (against Munster) to try and contribute and do what I can was great but we lost the game which was disappointing and we should have won the game.

“We are totally focused about Europe. We still want to finish the competition strongly, starting on Saturday in front of our home fans.”

Wayne Pivac (Scarlets) – “It’s great to have the Welsh boys back, especially after that win against South Africa. They’ve come back full of confidence.

“Ulster are a strong set piece side with a very good scrum and have one of the best defensive records in the domestic league. They’ll be a hard nut to crack away from home. Having said that, we’re going there sitting in second place. We’ll be going there with a view of putting our best foot forward and trying to get a result.

“Ulster need to win or it will be all over for them. There will be a big crowd and we’ll be up against it but it will certainly a good challenge.

“We need to get our performance back up to where we were against Toulon and Tigers in the opening two rounds.”

Current Form – Ulster – (GUINNESS PRO12): Drew 32-32 away to the Scarlets; Won 33-13 at home to Zebre; Won 26-9 away to Cardiff Blues; Lost 13-6 away to Zebre; Won 30-0 at home to Edinburgh; Won 29-9 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (European Champions Cup): Lost 25-18 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 23-13 at home to Toulon; (GUINNESS PRO12): Won 23-6 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 25-16 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 21-20 away to Munster

Scarlets – (GUINNESS PRO12): Drew 32-32 at home to Ulster; Lost 42-12 away to Leinster; Won 43-0 at home to Benetton Treviso; Drew 20-20 away to Edinburgh; Won 26-13 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 17-6 away to Munster; (European Champions Cup): Lost 28-18 away to Toulon; Won 15-3 at home to Leicester Tigers; (GUINNESS PRO12): Won 28-13 at home to Zebre; (LV= Cup): Lost 24-7 at home to Northampton Saints; Lost 19-13 away to Cardiff Blues; (GUINNESS PRO12): Won 19-9 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 14-8 away to Connacht

Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Champions Cup: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 16; Tries: Tommy Bowe, Franco van der Merwe, Craig Gilroy 1 each; Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 8; Tries: John Barclay, Kristian Phillips, Harry Robinson, Aled Davies 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 6

Friday, December 12, 2008 – Pool 4 – Scarlets 16 Ulster 16, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, December 5, 2008 – Pool 4 – Ulster 26 Scarlets 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, January 13, 2007 – Pool 5 – Ulster 11 Scarlets 35, Ravenhill
Friday, October 27, 2006 – Pool 5 – Scarlets 21 Ulster 15, Stradey Park
Saturday, December 18, 1999 – Pool 3 – Scarlets 20 Ulster 3, Stradey Park
Friday, December 10, 1999 – Pool 3 – Ulster 6 Scarlets 29, Ravenhill

Match Facts –

– Ulster and the Scarlets have met six times in Europe with Ulster unbeaten in the last two (W1, D1), however, the Scarlets won all four games previously

– Apart from one draw, all but one of the games between the teams have been won by a margin of 10 points or more

– Ulster’s Craig Gilroy has beaten 10 defenders in the tournament this season, with only Nick Abendanon (11) recording more

– The Scarlets’ James Davies has won five turnovers in the tournament so far. Only Steffon Armitage (7) has won more

European Cup Records:

Ulster –
2013/14: Reached the quarter-finals
2012/13: Reached the quarter-finals
2011/12: Runners-up
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1998/99: Champions
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B

Scarlets –
2013/14: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2003/04: Reached the quarter-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the quarter-final play-off
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals