Ulster are fast becoming a bogey team for the Ospreys who have suffered five defeats in six games against the province. Neil Doak’s men are back in Wales this week, determined to bounce back from last Saturday’s disappointing Champions Cup result in Llanelli.
GUINNESS PRO12: Saturday, December 20
OSPREYS (2nd) v ULSTER (4th), Liberty Stadium, 5.15pm (live Sky Sports 2 HD/BBC Radio Ulster MW)
Team News: Ulster head coach Neil Doak has made two changes to the team that lost narrowly to the Scarlets as the province return to GUINNESS PRO12 action away to the Ospreys on Saturday.
Michael Allen is named on the left wing and replaces Craig Gilroy who is rested for the round 10 match. Andrew Warwick, who signed his first senior contract with the province this week, starts at loosehead prop with Callum Black selected on the bench.
Ireland centre Stuart Olding has recovered from injury and is named on the bench. Sean Reidy and Peter Nelson are also selected as replacements.
The Ulstermen are fourth in the GUINNESS PRO12, level on points with the Ospreys and a point behind leaders Munster.
The province’s next home match is at home to Connacht on Boxing Day. There is limited availability for the interprovincial derby clash. To purchase a ticket, please click here.
Meanwhile, the newly-signed Dan Lydiate is a notable inclusion among the replacements for the Ospreys this weekend.
The Wales and Lions flanker is poised to make his Ospreys debut off the bench, with head coach Steve Tandy selecting the same fifteen players who started last week’s 18-14 European Champions Cup defeat away to Racing Metro 92.
The Ospreys were beaten 25-16 by Ulster in Belfast last month, with Darren Cave (2) and Franco van der Merwe scoring the hosts’ tries.
However, Saturday’s starting line-up has been strengthened by a number of international players. Josh Matavesi, Eli Walker, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Scott Baldwin, captain Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Tyler Ardron, who all start this time around, were unavailable for the recent Kingspan Stadium fixture.
OSPREYS: Dan Evans; Hanno Dirksen, Ashley Beck, Josh Matavesi, Eli Walker; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Marc Thomas, Scott Baldwin, Dimitri Arhip, Rynier Bernardo, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), James King, Justin Tipuric, Tyler Ardron.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Gareth Thomas, Daniel Suter, Dan Lydiate, Sam Lewis, Martin Roberts, Sam Davies, Andrew Bishop.
ULSTER: Louis Ludik; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Bronson Ross, Alan O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding, Peter Nelson.
Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens, Chris Williams (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 2/5; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 15/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Tommy Bowe (Ulster) – “This is our sixth time against them (the Ospreys) in the three years since I’ve been back and this will be my first time to actually get to play them.
“I’m looking forward to getting across to Swansea, to get back to the Liberty Stadium again, but I’m sure it will be a difficult match. It’s a tough one for us after Europe last weekend but we’re up for it.
“I had a super time over there. I went when I was 24, was there for four years. I absolutely loved it, thought the rugby was brilliant and it definitely brought on my game.
“It’ll be great to catch up with some of the boys that I played with, the people round the stadium, and the supporters too. It was nice to just try something different. I lived in Swansea for three years, Cardiff for one, and it was brilliant.
“After last weekend we really need to fully concentrate on the league. Winning the PRO12 has become our number one goal now and I think this weekend could be a real statement if we can go over there and get a victory.
“The Ospreys are at home, and it’s a difficult place to go and win, but we’ve done it before and hopefully we can do it again.”
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) – “We’ve got to learn from our mistakes, and we’ve got to look at this block of PRO12 games over the next month to really cement our top four spot. It’s really tight in the top half of the table, so back-to-back home games gives us an opportunity to build some momentum.
“To do that, we’ve got to step up another level this weekend in terms of accuracy and being clinical when we create opportunities. We know the pride in the jersey and the commitment levels will be there, that’s a given with this group, but that accuracy and attention to detail will lead to winning performances.
“This young group is learning every week and the experience they are getting will prove invaluable for their long-term development. We have a plan for where we want to go as a team, we know what we want to achieve together, and although it’s a long-term plan, everybody involved is pretty excited about what we are doing.
“These are two tough games (against Ulster and the Scarlets) at the Liberty over the next two weekends and we’ll need the supporters to be patient if it’s not going our way and to really get behind the team. It’s a crucial time of the season and we all need to do our bit.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 70; Tries: Rhys Webb 5; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 71; Tries: Andrew Trimble 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, February 24, 2012 – Ulster 15 Ospreys 14, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 8, 2012 – Ospreys 13 Ulster 16, Liberty Stadium
Friday, February 8, 2013 – Ulster 12 Ospreys 16, Ravenhill
Friday, October 4, 2013 – Ospreys 12 Ulster 18, Liberty Stadium
Friday, February 7, 2014 – Ulster 10 Ospreys 7, Ravenhill
Friday, November 21, 2014 – Ulster 25 Ospreys 16, Kingspan Stadium
– The Ospreys’ only victory in their last eight matches in all competitions was 26-11 at home to Connacht in round 7 of the PRO12
– The Welshmen have won their last seven PRO12 matches at the Liberty Stadium since Munster were the visitors in February
– Ulster’s last six PRO12 matches have all been won by the home side on the day, while their only away win in any competition since May came in Cardiff on September 19 (this is their only victory in Wales since October 2013)
– The Ospreys have beaten Ulster just once in their last six encounters: 16-12 in Belfast in February 2013
– The Ulstermen have not been victorious in Swansea since September 2011