Nine Ireland internationals have been included in Ulster’s matchday squad as they look to secure a morale-boosting win over Benetton Treviso, ahead of an important run of matches for the province.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, January 7
ULSTER (6th) v BENETTON TREVISO (8th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has made ten changes in personnel to his team for Friday’s Magners League encounter with Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill.
Only Paddy Wallace and Simon Danielli remain in the starting back-line from last weekend’s derby defeat to Munster in Limerick.
Wallace shifts from out-half to inside centre, with Ian Humphreys, who has recovered from an ankle injury, and Ruan Pienaar restored at half-back.
Adam D’Arcy and Andrew Trimble join Danielli in the back-three, and the 20-year-old Nevin Spence comes in at centre for his seventh Magners League appearance.
Up front, Tom Court, who was used as a replacement last Saturday, and BJ Botha start in the front row alongside team captain Rory Best.
South African powerhouse Johann Muller rejoins Tim Barker in the second row, and the final two changes see Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg take over from Thomas Anderson and Robbie Diack in the back row.
Stephen Ferris is a notable inclusion amongst the replacements, having recovered from a leg injury sustained in training ahead of last month’s game against Bath at the Recreation Ground.
Meanwhile, Benetton Treviso head coach Franco Smith has made a number of alterations to the team that edged out Aironi on a 16-15 scoreline last Friday.
In a rejigged back-line, Chris Burton has moved from out-half to full-back as Willem De Waal and Fabio Semenzato get a chance to start at half-back.
Tommaso Benvenuti also shifts from the left wing to outside centre, linking up with Alberto Sgarbi. Andrew Vilk will don the number 11 jersey, with Gonzalo Garcia and goal-kicking scrum half Tobie Botes dropping to the replacements bench.
Team captain Antonio Pavanello is injured currently, so Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini will captain the side from the front row.
There are three changes to the starting pack from the Aironi game – Pedro di Santo and Paul Derbyshire make way for Lorenzo Cittadini and Marco Filippucci, while Gonzalo Padrò comes in for the injured Pavanello in the second row.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Nevin Spence, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Bryan Young, Declan Fitzpatrick, Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine.
BENETTON TREVISO: Chris Burton, Ludovico Nitoglia, Tommaso Benvenuti, Alberto Sgarbi, Andrew Vilk; Willem De Waal, Fabio Semenzato; Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, Leonardo Ghiraldini (capt), Lorenzo Cittadini, Gonzalo Padrò, Corniel Can Zyl, Marco Filippucci, Alessandro Zanni, Manoa Vosawai.
Replacements: Franco Sbaraglini, Augusto Allori, Pedro di Santo, Valerio Bernabò, Paul Derbyshire, Francesco Minto, Tobie Botes, Gonzalo Garcia.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: John Carvill, David Connolly (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/20; Draw: 35/1; Benetton Treviso to win: 7/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Rory Best (Ulster) – “We always talked about getting into the New Year and being in a position where we could mount challenges on both fronts, the Magners League and Europe.
“For too many years that I’ve been here that hasn’t been the case. Effectively, in the past, our season has been over at Christmas.
“But now it’s a very, very exciting time to be an Ulster player. Okay, we’re sitting sixth in the Magners League and the table maybe doesn’t look particularly pretty.
“But if we win our game in hand we’re two points behind fourth and still very much in the hunt.
“With the Magners League set up the way it is, everyone is beating everyone else and there are points up for grabs,” he added.
“If you can just sit in behind the top four and be in a position to take advantage when somebody makes a slip-up, you can get in there.
“We were very disappointed with our last home performance (against Leinster), but by and large our performances at Ravenhill have been good, so we want to get back to that level.
“To us, playing at home is still something very, very special. The majority of the players in our squad have grown up going to Ravenhill from they were no age, dreaming of playing there right the way up through to a point where now they’re doing that.
“People may say that the professional game has taken the edge off that emotional side of things, but that is not true of this Ulster squad.”
Franco Smith (Benetton Treviso) – “We are delighted with the result last year, winning the last Italian Championship, and I’m really proud of what the boys have managed to do in 2010.
“At the beginning of the Magners League season, our stated goal was to be a surprise every week and I would say that so far we are succeeding – even the Aironi match proves it.
“We take the positive aspects from Aironi – and we enjoyed the victory. From here, we continue to work for the next match, the challenge of Ulster in Belfast.
“We did not have much time to enjoy last weekend’s win over Aironi as we were already thinking about the next game against Ulster shortly afterwards.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Niall O’Connor 59; Tries: Craig Gilroy 5; Benetton Treviso – Points: Tobie Botes 104; Tries: Brendan Williams, Ludovico Nitoglia, Chris Burton 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, November 26, 2010 – Benetton Treviso 9 Ulster 19, Stadio di Monigo
– Ulster have lost their last two matches to Leinster and Munster and have not won at Ravenhill in the Magners League since Glasgow Warriors were the visitors on October 1
– Benetton Treviso took both ‘legs’ of their Italian derby clashes with Aironi over the festive period
– Benetton Treviso have not won a game outside of Italy since a trip to the Newport Gwent Dragons in the Heineken Cup in December 2007
– Ulster have won all five of their previous encounters with Benetton Treviso in all competitions