Bolstered by their returning international players, Ulster are eyeing up a season’s double over Glasgow Warriors as they keep up their chase for a Magners League play-off spot.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, March 25
GLASGOW WARRIORS (11th) v ULSTER (4th), Firhill Stadium, 8.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/BBC ALBA)
Team News: Head coach Brian McLaughlin has continued his rotation policy, bringing in six new faces for Ulster’s Magners League encounter with Glasgow Warriors at Firhill Stadium.
Ireland internationals Tom Court and Paddy Wallace join Scotland’s Simon Danielli in the starting team as they all return from Six Nations duty.
Hooker Rory Best, who started against England last weekend, takes his place on the Ulster bench, but Andrew Trimble is unavailable after picking up a slight quad injury against England.
Paul Marshall is included at scrum half after his cameo against the Newport Gwent Dragons and Ruan Pienaar moves to out-half as a result.
Conor Gaston will make his second appearance on the wing after impressing on his debut last time out.
The returning Danielli will start at full-back, taking over from Adam D’Arcy, and Wallace will join Nevin Spence at centre with youngster Luke Marshall, who broke a bone in his hand, set to miss the rest of the season.
Andi Kyriacou and Declan Fitzpatrick remain in the front row and are joined by Court. Dan Tuohy has been promoted from the replacements to partner stand-in captain Johann Muller in the second row.
The back row is reshuffled again with Pedrie Wannenburg starting at number 8, Robbie Diack moving to blindside flanker and Chris Henry at openside flanker.
The return of Ulster’s international players is a timely boost as every point will count in the Magners League and the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Northampton Saints is just over two weeks’ away.
Speaking ahead of the game in Glasgow, McLaughlin said: “If we want to make that semi-final spot in the Magners League then every game is a cup final. We have to perform in every game.”
Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors are looking to follow up on last weekend’s much-needed home win over Benetton Treviso.
The Warriors welcome back out-half Ruaridh Jackson and flanker Richie Vernon back from the Scotland camp following the RBS 6 Nations.
Winger DTH van der Merwe, who signed a new two-year deal this week, has recovered from a wrist injury.
Two of the top try scorers in this season’s Magners League will face off in a fascinating wing duel, with van der Merwe coming up against Ulster youngster Craig Gilroy.
GLASGOW WARRIORS: Bernardo Stortoni; DTH van der Merwe, Federico Aramburu, Peter Murchie, Alex Dunbar; Ruaridh Jackson, Colin Gregor (capt); Jon Welsh, Fergus Thomson, Moray Low, Aly Muldowney, Robert Harley, James Eddie, Ryan Wilson, Richie Vernon.
Replacements: Pat MacArthur, Kevin Tkachuk, Ryan Grant, Chris Fusaro, Johnnie Beattie, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Hefin O’Hare.
ULSTER: Simon Danielli; Conor Gaston, Nevin Spence, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Andi Kyriacou, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Rory Best, Paddy McAllister, Bryan Young, Tim Barker, Willie Faloon, Ian Whitten, Tommy Seymour, Adam D’Arcy.
Referee: David Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: David Knox, Bob Nevins (both Scotland)
Television Match Official: Iain Ramage (Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Glasgow Warriors to win: 11/10; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 8/11
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “The Scottish sides have suffered dramatically with the Italian sides coming into the Magners League.
“The squads are having to play league games during the autumn series and also during the Six Nations. That’s something we haven’t had to do too much of in the past and I think it has affected them because they’ve got so many people involved in the Scottish team.
“But there’s no doubt now that Glasgow, with their Scottish contingent coming back, are going to be a different kettle of fish.
“Now it is about trying to keep the routine, trying to make sure that the players are winning and confident so that when we go to Northampton (in the Heineken Cup) we’re ready to put in the performance we’re going to need.”
Sean Lineen (Glasgow Warriors) – “The players were delighted to get the win over Treviso (last week). It was a very hard game against big physical men and to get that victory was really encouraging. The team spirit was strong and to score three tries was very good.”
“There will be one or two guys back from the Ireland camp, but the strength of the Ulster team is in their foreigners.
“Pedrie Wannenburg, Johann Muller and one certain Ruan Pienaar are phenomenal players. But we’ve just got to control what we can.
“(Not starting with Johnnie Beattie in the back row) is more to do with the balance. I thought Johnnie had a much improved game last weekend but players like Ryan Wilson and Rob Harley were outstanding. They are setting the tone at the moment.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Glasgow Warriors – Points: Duncan Weir 110; Tries: DTH van der Merwe 7; Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 80; Tries: Craig Gilroy 7
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, October 1, 2010 – Ulster 19 Glasgow Warriors 17, Ravenhill
– Glasgow Warriors gained their first Magners League victory of 2011 at home to Benetton Treviso last Friday
– The Warriors’ sole defeat at Firhill Stadium in their last five matches in all competitions was a 26-15 loss to the Cardiff Blues on February 11
– Ulster have lost only one of their last eight games in all competitions, going down 23-22 to the Ospreys on February 13
– The Ulstermen have won just once on their last four visits to Scotland, beating Edinburgh 37-25 last April
– Ulster won 19-17 when these two teams met at Ravenhill last October, and have also been victorious on two of their last three visits to Firhill Stadium