Ulster will pitch up at Murrayfield gunning for a morale-boosting away win over Edinburgh, which would edge them closer to the play-off positions in the RaboDirect PRO12 and give them added confidence ahead of next week’s return to Heineken Cup action.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, January 6
EDINBURGH (9th) v ULSTER (8th), Murrayfield, 7.30pm (live BBC Radio Ulster MW 1340)
Team News: Ulster have been boosted by the return of a number of key players to the matchday 23 for Friday’s trip to play Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
Head coach Brian McLaughlin welcomes back his international contingent, with Andrew Trimble, Stephen Ferris, Tom Court and Rory Best all returning to the starting line-up having missed the interprovincial games over the festive period.
Trimble’s return sees Craig Gilroy shift to the left wing and Stefan Terblanche revert to full-back, with Adam D’Arcy the player to make way.
Ian Whitten and Darren Cave again form the centre partnership, while Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys continue as the starting half-backs.
Best and Court are included in the front row in place of Andi Kyriacou and the injured Paddy McAllister. They are joined by All Black prop John Afoa, who picked up the man-of-the-match award in the 33-17 win over Munster last weekend.
Captain Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy once again combine in the second row. Ferris’ inclusion at blindside flanker results in Chris Henry moving to the openside berth, while Pedrie Wannenburg remains at number 8.
Paddy Wallace has returned to the squad after seven weeks on the sidelines with tendon damage in his thumb.
With Ulster just seven points adrift of fourth spot in the RaboDirect PRO12, a win would be a huge boost to their hopes of progressing to the play-offs, but defeat would be damaging.
This is a point not lost on McLaughlin. He said: “It’s a crucial game for us, not only in terms of the PRO12, but also with Europe in mind next week.
“Edinburgh have been playing well this season and like to play a good brand of rugby, but we will be looking to put in a quality performance and getting the result.”
The Ulster boss is pleased to be welcoming back some senior players, adding: “Training has been excellent all week. It’s been great having the internationals back, including Paddy (Wallace).
“It really gives us a boost coming into such important games and they will bring a bit extra to the team tomorrow night. They’re itching to get involved again and we are looking forward to having them back in.”
McLaughlin also admitted that he was faced with some tough decisions in terms of selection this week.
“Adam D’Arcy has been playing very well over the past few matches but Stefan has a bit more experience and we wanted to give him an opportunity to impress at full-back.
“With Andrew coming back in it gave us an opportunity to rotate a bit and make use of the strong squad we’ve assembled.”
Meanwhile, out-half Phil Godman is the only back to retain a starting spot from Edinburgh’s 17-12 derby defeat to Glasgow Warriors last weekend when his drop goal secured a late losing bonus point.
Chris Paterson returns to the full-back position and is joined by centres James King and Nick De Luca. Their selection sees Jim Thompson and Matt Scott move to the bench and the injured John Houston (neck strain) drop from the squad.
The back-line is completed by the return of the league’s top try scorer this season, Tim Visser, and Tom Brown who returns from injury (dead leg) seeking to continue his try-scoring form from the opposite wing.
In the pack the club’s all-international front row of Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Geoff Cross are set to start in place of props Jack Gilding and Kyle Traynor, who start on the bench.
Ford’s reintroduction means Andrew Kelly drops out of the squad as young hooker Alun Walker retains his place on the bench.
Esteban Lozada and Sean Cox start in the second row as a straight swap for the benched Grant Gilchrist and the injured Steven Turnbull (ankle).
There is only one personnel change in the Scottish side’s back row – Roddy Grant replaces Alan MacDonald, whose impressive display against Glasgow has earned him a place on the bench ahead of Ross Rennie.
EDINBURGH: Chris Paterson; Tom Brown, Nick De Luca, James King, Tim Visser; Phil Godman, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford, Geoff Cross, Sean Cox, Esteban Lozada, Stuart McInally, Roddy Grant, Netani Talei.
Replacements: Alun Walker, Kyle Traynor, Jack Gilding, Grant Gilchrist, Alan MacDonald, Chris Leck, Matt Scott, Jim Thompson.
ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Paddy Wallace, Adam D’Arcy.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Rob Dickson, Archie McInally (both Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Edinburgh to win: 8/11; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 6/5
Pre-Match Quotes: John Afoa (Ulster) – “There is a real buzz in the side, we’ve got Munster out of the way and we’re looking for a massive performance against Edinburgh.
“We then go into the two big games after that (with the Heineken Cup clashes with Leicester Tigers and Clermont Auvergne).
“The try I scored against Munster was actually pretty flukey. Ruan Pienaar passed the ball to me when he could have gone over himself but I’m just happy with how the team are going and with my part in the team.
“When I signed to come over here it just wasn’t about playing – it was about helping the younger guys through.
“We have Adam Macklin and Paddy McAllister and a couple of other young guys and I’ll work with them and it will be like an apprenticeship for them. I’m just here to help and I’m feeling good.”
Michael Bradley (Edinburgh) – “Like us, Ulster have so far enjoyed a successful Heineken Cup campaign but have not been as convincing in the RaboDirect PRO12, though they clearly took a big step towards addressing that last weekend against Munster (beating them 33-17).
“We have shown good form in front of our home support, winning six of our last seven at Murrayfield.
“However Ulster have lost just one in their last five so will arrive with a lot of confidence, something which we will need to tackle early on.
“This is a huge match for us as a big month for the club continues and while we’ve acknowledged the long-term importance of our January fixtures, the players and coaches are focused fully on the size of the job at hand.
“Success tomorrow would clearly give us the winning momentum we desire going into the Heineken Cup however that itself is not the objective. First and foremost this is about winning in the RaboDirect PRO12.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Edinburgh – Points: Greig Laidlaw 113; Tries: Tim Visser 10; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 94; Tries: Darren Cave 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 3, 2008 – Ulster 13 Edinburgh 9, Ravenhill
Friday, January 9, 2009 – Edinburgh 21 Ulster 15, Murrayfield
Fiday, September 18, 2009 – Ulster 13 Edinburgh 16, Ravenhill
Sunday, April 25, 2010 – Edinburgh 25 Ulster 37, Murrayfield
Friday, September 17, 2010 – Ulster 29 Edinburgh 21, Ravenhill
Friday, October 22, 2010 – Edinburgh 21 Ulster 16, Murrayfield
– Edinburgh have won just one of their last four games in the RaboDirect PRO12, beating Aironi Rugby 50-10 at home on December 2
– Edinburgh’s only defeat at Murrayfield in their last seven encounters in all competitions was a 36-28 reversal to table-topping Leinster in October
– Ulster have lost only one of their last five matches in all competitions, going down 42-13 at Leinster on December 26
– The Ulstermen’s solitary away win since September was a 46-20 success over Aironi in Monza in the Heineken Cup on December 17
– Edinburgh’s sole victory in their last four encounters with Ulster came in their last meeting, in October 2010 at Murrayfield