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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Cardiff Blues v Ulster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Cardiff Blues v Ulster

Ulster will seek to extend their winning run in 2014 to nine games when they clash with Cardiff Blues on Saturday, a week before their much-anticipated Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, March 29

CARDIFF BLUES (10th) v ULSTER (3rd), Arms Park, 6.30pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/S4C)

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Team News: Loosehead prop Tom Court will make his 150th appearance for Ulster in Saturday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park.

Court will start in the front row in the Welsh capital alongside hooker Rob Herring and tighthead prop John Afoa.

Johann Muller captains Ulster from the second row where he is joined by Dan Tuohy, who makes his first start since breaking his arm playing for Ireland last month.

Stephen Ferris is picked at blindside flanker again, with Nick Williams named at umber 8 and Chris Henry, who is playing his first game for Ulster since winning the Six Nations with Ireland, selected at openside flanker.

Jared Payne starts at full-back, with Tommy Bowe selected on the right wing and Andrew Trimble, also back for Ulster after Ireland’s Six Nations success, starting on the left.

Luke Marshall and Darren Cave continue in the centre with Paddy Jackson named at out-half and Michael Heaney retained at scrum half in the absence of the injured Ruan Pienaar.

Head coach Mark Anscombe has picked six forwards on the bench, with Niall Annett, Andrew Warwick, Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack and Sean Doyle joined by backs Paul Marshall and Craig Gilroy.

Rory Best and Roger Wilson are rested for the game which is live on BBC 2 Northern Ireland and S4C. Ulster are unbeaten in 2014 having won eight successive matches.

Meanwhile, inspirational hooker Matthew Rees makes his eagerly-anticipated return to rugby as Cardiff have their final Arms Park outing of the season this weekend.

Rees, affectionately known across the rugby world as ‘Smiler’, has been out of action since October having taking an enforced period away from the sport to receive cancer treatment.

But after being given the all-clear to return to full training last month, the former Wales international is set for his first appearance in over five months after being named among the replacements to face high-flying Ulster.

The Blues make a total of seven changes to the side that lost 34-9 to the Ospreys as they hunt a winning finale on home soil.

Samoan international centre Isaia Tuifua is called up to join forces with Cory Allen in midfield, while Chris Czekaj is named on the left wing. Harry Robinson misses the game after picking up an ankle injury against the Ospreys.

Scrum half Lewis Jones is handed a starting spot and will combine with Gareth Davies at half-back.

Hooker Kristian Dacey and lock Lou Reed, who makes his 100th appearances in the PRO12, are the new faces in the front five.

The final change to the starting line-up sees Macauley Cook named at blindside flanker. Cook will join forces in the back row with Josh Navidi and Robin Copeland, who makes his 50th appearance for Cardiff.

Rees, Thomas Davies and James Down are among those given a call-up to the replacements bench.

CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Isaia Tuifua, Chris Czekaj; Gareth Davies, Lewis Jones; Gethin Jenkins (capt), Kristian Dacey, Taufa’ao Filise, Lou Reed, Filo Paulo, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Robin Copeland.

Replacements: Matthew Rees, Thomas Davies, Scott Andrews, James Down, Ellis Jenkins, Lloyd Williams, Simon Humberstone, Gavin Evans.

ULSTER: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Andrew Trimble; Paddy Jackson, Michael Heaney; Tom Court, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Niall Annett, Andrew Warwick, Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Sean Doyle, Paul Marshall, Craig Gilroy.

Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Sean Brickell (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 3/1; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 2/9

Pre-Match Quotes: Chris Henry (Ulster) – “Obviously, more people saw me play in the Six Nations and maybe that’s why they’re saying I have grown in stature.

“When you’re playing regularly for Ireland and winning things, your confidence grows, but I like to think anyone who has seen me play for Ulster in recent years will know what I’m about.

“I do feel there’s more to come and I want to use my Irish experience as a springboard for the future. I want to keep growing as a player.

“(At Ulster) we have so much to play for. Winning the Six Nations was a real highlight, but I want more highlights this season.

“The likes of myself, Rory (Best) and Andrew (Trimble) saw regular game-time for Ireland, but others like Darren Cave, Dan Tuohy, Ian Henderson, Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall also featured.

“We’ve also got players back from injury, so the squad is in a good place heading into a crucial stage of the campaign.”

Dale McIntosh (Cardiff Blues) – “We were not happy with the manner of last week’s performance (when losing 34-9 to the Ospreys) and we need to make sure we react in the right way.

“We have to do justice to the jersey, show how much last week hurt and perform in our final home game at the Arms Park.

“We need to be mentally prepared and ready. We say goodbye to the Arms Park for another season and we do not want to end on a sour note.

“Every game is massive to me, you put in a huge effort and the best performance you possible can. But as our last game at the Arms Park we want to put in a big display for our fans.

“Having Matthew (Rees) back is a huge inspiration to us all. I am sure he will get a fantastic reception and he is a humble lad who will deal with it and get on with it. But I know how keen he is to get back out on the field and get that Blues jersey on his back.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Cardiff Blues – Points: Leigh Halfpenny 98; Tries: Kristian Dacey 5; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 111; Tries: Darren Cave, Tommy Bowe 4 each


Friday, February 25, 2011 – Ulster 32 Cardiff Blues 13, Ravenhill
Friday, September 16, 2011 – Ulster 20 Cardiff Blues 3, Ravenhill
Friday, February 17, 2012 – Cardiff Blues 21 Ulster 14, Arms Park
Friday, September 28, 2012 – Cardiff Blues 19 Ulster 48, Arms Park
Friday, May 3, 2013 – Ulster 37 Cardiff Blues 13, Ravenhill
Friday, October 25, 2013 – Ulster 39 Cardiff Blues 21, Ravenhill


– Cardiff Blues have lost their last five RaboDirect PRO12 matches, equalling their worst ever run in the competition

– The Blues’ only victory in their last nine fixtures with Irish provinces was 21-10 over Connacht at the Arms Park in round 2 this season

– Ulster have won their last eight matches in all competitions although their 9-3 victory at Edinburgh last Friday was only the third time in the history of the league that Ulster have won a game without scoring a try

– The Ulstermen have lost on two of their last three visits to Wales, while the Blues’ only victory in their last seven encounters with Ulster was 21-14 at the Arms Park in February 2012