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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Cardiff Blues v Ulster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Cardiff Blues v Ulster

Ulster are on a roll at the moment having chalked up three successive bonus point victories in the RaboDirect PRO12. They face another examination of their play-off credentials when they travel to the Welsh capital to take on the Cardiff Blues.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, February 17

CARDIFF BLUES (6th) v ULSTER (5th), Cardiff Arms Park, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/BBC 2 Wales)

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Team News: Head coach Brian McLaughlin has made four personnel and three positional changes for Ulster’s important RaboDirect PRO12 clash with the Cardiff Blues on Friday.

Paddy Wallace, Tom Court and Chris Henry have been released from Ireland duty and they go straight into the starting line-up along with Nigel Brady, who replaces Andi Kyriacou.

Brady, Court and John Afoa form the front row, while Lewis Stevenson and Dan Tuohy continue their partnership in the second row with captain Johann Muller still sidelined through injury.

Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack get another chance in the back row, where they are joined by stand-in skipper Chris Henry. Mike McComish makes way despite a robust performance in the bonus point win over the Dragons last weekend.

The return of Wallace at inside centre results in a number of positional changes across the back-line. Nevin Spence moves out one to wear the number 13 jersey, with Ian Whitten reverting to the left wing and Stefan Terblanche starting at full-back.

Ulster have plenty of options on the replacements bench, with Paul Marshall, Simon Danielli and Adam D’Arcy all capable of changing the course of the game.

Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues return to the Arms Park for a second week running having won four of their last five matches in all competitions.

There are three changes in the backs as the Blues welcome back Lloyd Williams and Gavin Henson from Wales’ Six Nations squad and also out-half Dan Parks, who announced his international retirement earlier in the month.

Henson starts at inside centre with Casey Laulala still suffering from a hamstring strain picked up in the win over Connacht last Friday.

There is one changes in the back row with Michael Paterson replacing Ma’ama Molitika at blindside flanker. Josh Navidi was originally selected to start, but a bruised hip has ruled him out and Martyn Williams continues at openside.

Cory Hill will make his second league start when partnering Paul Tito in the second row. While Ryan Tyrrell starts at hooker either side of John Yapp and Scott Andrews in the front row.

CARDIFF BLUES: Ben Blair; Richard Mustoe, Gavin Evans, Gavin Henson, Tom James; Dan Parks, Lloyd Williams; John Yapp, Ryan Tyrrell, Scott Andrews, Cory Hill, Paul Tito (capt), Michael Paterson, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush.

Replacements: Rhys Thomas, Nathan Trevett, Ryan Harford, Ma’ama Molitika, Macauley Cook, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Chris Czekaj.

ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Craig Gilroy, Nevin Spence, Paddy Wallace, Ian Whitten; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, John Afoa, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry (capt), Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.

Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Tim Barker, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Simon Danielli, Adam D’Arcy.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Jon Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Paul Adams (Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 4/7; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 7/5

Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “With Chris (Henry), Tom (Court) and Paddy (Wallace) coming back in it means certain people miss out.

“It shows the strength of the squad that we are building when players like Mike (McComish) and Adam (D’Arcy), who have proved themselves at this level, aren’t in the team.

“But that provides challenges for those players and for everyone else in the squad. The competition for places should motivate the players to continue improving.

“This is a very important match for us given the position the two teams occupy in the league. There isn’t much between us so I suppose you could say it’s an eight-pointer.

“But we’re playing well at the minute and if we play like we have done over the past few weeks, we have a good chance of coming back with the result.

“We’re a confident side now and we know we can beat anyone on our day. There is a good atmosphere amongst the squad and the management and we feel we’re moving forward.

“We will continue to push towards our goals and a win on Friday would be another step forward in terms of qualification for the PRO12 play-offs.”

Justin Burnell (Cardiff Blues) – “I think Ulster’s threat comes from across the board. They have recruited some exceptional South African and New Zealand forwards and have a very good half-back pairing.

“(Ruan) Pienaar is a key man for them and if there was a world ranking I certainly think he would be in the top three whether he was playing 9 or 10.

“It is a massive challenge for us but important that we pick up points to get us to the play-off stages.

“The players and coaches certainly enjoyed being back at the Arms Park last weekend (against Connacht) and we are fortunate that we have two great venues to play at. It was a great occasion.

“Certain players hadn’t played there and were proud that they were given the opportunity. I hope we can secure the same result on Friday.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Cardiff Blues – Points: Ceri Sweeney 62; Tries: Alex Cuthbert 5; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 100; Tries: Darren Cave 4


Friday, April 24, 2009 – Ulster 9 Cardiff Blues 11, Ravenhill
Friday, March 26, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 19 Ulster 9, Cardiff City Stadium
Saturday, Apil 3, 2010 – Ulster 24 Cardiff Blues 33, Ravenhill
Sunday, November 21, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 15 Ulster 37, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, February 25, 2011 – Ulster 32 Cardiff Blues 13, Ravenhill
Friday, September 16, 2011 – Ulster 20 Cardiff Blues 3, Ravenhill


– Cardiff Blues have won four of their last five matches in all competitions, and in home encounters their sole defeat in their last eight fixtures was a 23-19 loss to Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12 on January 7

– Ulster’s only loss in their last five games was a 19-15 reversal in Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup on January 21

– The Ulstermen doubled their tally of away wins in this season’s RaboDirect PRO12 on their last trip, winning 42-20 at Edinburgh

– Ulster need to win to avoid a clean sweep of defeats in Wales this season

– Ulster have won their last three clashes with the Blues, including a 37-15 victory on their only previous visit to the Cardiff City Stadium