Nevin Spence, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy have been given a chance to shine in the Ulster back-line as the province entertain the Cardiff Blues at Ravenhill. A win for Brian McLaughlin’s men would draw them closer to a play-off position.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, February 25
ULSTER (6th) v CARDIFF BLUES (3rd), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has made four changes in personnel and one positional switch following his side’s dramatic win over the Scarlets.
With Paddy Wallace and Tom Court in camp with Ireland ahead of their Six Nations match against Scotland, Luke Marshall and Bryan Young come in to cover at inside centre and loosehead prop respectively.
Ireland Under-20 international Marshall forms a youthful centre partnership with the 20-year-old Nevin Spence, who will be making his 10th Magners League appearance.
“I’m just taking each game as it comes and trying to play to my potential,” Spence told the Belfast Telegraph.
“Paddy Jackson did well last week and there is a lot of youth coming through with the likes of Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall, so it looks good for the future.
“It’s good that the coaches have just thrown us in and with Gilroy getting a good run, it shows we haven’t done too bad and we’re happy enough.
“I’m just going from game to game, trying to enjoy it as much as possible. If you’re not enjoying it, I don’t think there is much point in doing it.”
Ian Humphreys has recovered from a shoulder injury and is back in the team in place of youngster Paddy Jackson, who won his first cap last Friday against the Scarlets.
In the back row, Willie Faloon is recalled after being rested for last weekend’s trip to the Welsh capital. He fills the openside flanker berth with Chris Henry moving to the blindside in place of the benched Thomas Anderson.
Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues have made three changes to the team that saw off Leinster on an 11-3 scoreline last Saturday.
Scrum half Rhys Downes returns in the backs, and Scott Andrews and hooker Rhys Thomas have been added to the front row.
As well as missing a number of players to Six Nations duty, the Blues are currently without the injured Ben Blair (knee), Gethin Jenkins (toe) and Tom Shankin (knee).
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Nevin Spence, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Bryan Young, Andi Kyriacou, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Tim Barker, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Jerry Cronin, Ryan Caldwell, Thomas Anderson, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Tommy Seymour.
CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Richard Mustoe, Gavin Evans, Dafydd Hewitt, Tom James; Ceri Sweeney, Rhys Downes; Taufa’ao Filise, Rhys Thomas, Scott Andrews, Deiniol Jones, Paul Tito (capt), Andries Pretorius, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Gareth Williams, Nathan Trevett, Sam Hobbs, Ben White, Ma’ama Molitika, Tom Slater, Gareth Davies, James Loxton.
Referee: James Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Alan Rogan, Peter Roche (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/11; Draw: 19/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Bryan Young (Ulster) – “(The last-minute kick) is a great way to win a game and a terrible way to lose one.
“That kick from Ruan in Llanelli has given us a huge opportunity to push on in the Magners League, it showed the relief after the game when everybody was involved in that melee at the end, that never happens even after huge Heineken Cup games.
“It was just the way of it in a game where we hadn’t played well but we have managed to get the win and it was just huge relief.
“It’s been a long time since our last game at Ravenhill (against Biarritz last month). It’s exciting to be back and I hope the supporters are excited to see us again. I hope they come out and get behind us.
“Home form is crucial and added to the fact that Cardiff are above us, there is a gap appearing with the top six breaking away. We need to keep winning and get ourselves up into the top-four.
“We have a run now of three games at home, this is a good opportunity and the boys realise that. We could have sneaked the game at the Ospreys but we could have lost at the Scarlets.”
David Young (Cardiff Blues) – “It’s a massive game for both teams, who have top four aspirations. Maybe it’s a tougher game for us because of the international withdrawals, as I don’t think Ulster have as many, so it will test our squad a little bit more than them.
“There are two very important games for us during this Six Nations period before our internationals come back but we recorded a good win against Leinster last weekend.
“Our defence was excellent, the attack and approach was very good, but we just didn’t cross the whitewash enough.
“We have got to turn those try scoring opportunities into points and make sure we keep the scoreboard ticking over.
“I think we have been quite successful over at Ravenhill in recent years so know what it takes to win. It’s always a place where I like going.
“There’s a great atmosphere, the crowd are very vocal, it’s very intense and it gets the hairs on the back of your neck on end. But there’s nothing better than coming away with a win, as very few teams do it.
“Ulster are a better team and a better squad than they have been over the last two seasons, so we are going to have to be somewhere near our best if we are to secure the victory.
“Ulster pose a threat from a lot of areas but obviously (Johann) Muller in the second row guarantees them lineout possession and is good in defence.”
“(Pedrie) Wannenburg, their number 8, in the back of the scrum is a very strong ball carrier and can take them forward, while (Ruan) Pienaar has quality written all over him and good enough to play 9 or 10.
“They add to the players who have been there a while and have that never say die Ulster spirit. We know it will be a big challenge but one that we are looking forward to.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Niall O’Connor 59; Tries: Craig Gilroy 5; Cardiff Blues – Points: Ceri Sweeney 89; Tries: Tom James, Rhys Thomas 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, May 9, 2008 – Ulster 17 Cardiff Blues 26, Ravenhill
Friday, September 12, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 16 Ulster 15, Arms Park
Friday, April 24, 2009 – Ulster 9 Cardiff Blues 11, Ravenhill
Friday, March 26, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 19 Ulster 9, Cardiff City Stadium
Saturday, April 3, 2010 – Ulster 24 Cardiff Blues 33, Ravenhill
Sunday, November 21, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 15 Ulster 37, Cardiff City Stadium
– Ulster’s only loss in their last five matches in all competitions was a 23-22 reversal at the Ospreys in the Magners League last February
– The Ulstermen have won three of their four games against Welsh opponents this season
– The Cardiff Blues have secured four successive Magners League victories and climbed from fifth to second place in the table in the process
– The Blues’ only win in their last six trips over the Irish Sea was a 33-24 success in this equivalent fixture at Ravenhill last season
– Ulster’s seven-match losing run against the Cardiff Blues ended at the Cardiff City Stadium in round 8. Ulster have not achieved a Magners League double over the Blues since the 2005/06 season