Ulster have won twice before at the Liberty Stadium and their form suggests they could make it three wins when they pay the Ospreys a visit on Sunday. A close game is expected, with only a point separating the sides in their last two meetings.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Sunday, September 25
OSPREYS (4th) v ULSTER (3rd), Liberty Stadium, 4.30pm (live S4C)
Team News: Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has made two enforced changes to the starting line-up for Sunday’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium.
Luke Marshall has been called up to replace injured centre Darren Cave, who has been rested following a recurrence of a hamstring injury which plagued him for most of last season.
Marshall and Nevin Spence formed an impressive partnership last season while Cave was out injured and Paddy Wallace was away on international duty, so it should cause minimal disruption to the Ulster midfield.
In a late switch, Ian Humphreys has been forced to withdraw due to a shoulder injury which first surfaced in last weekend’s win over the Cardiff Blues.
Paddy Jackson will take Humphreys’ place at out-half, and development player James McKinney is standing by to make his competitive debut as a replacement.
The side is led again by captain Chris Henry at openside flanker, as Brian McLaughlin has stuck with the forwards who dominated up front against Cardiff.
A rib injury has ruled out reserve scrum half Ian Porter, whose position on the bench is taken by 19-year-old Academy player Blane McIlroy.
The only other change to the matchday squad from the Cardiff game is the inclusion of Willie Faloon, who will provide back row cover instead of Mike McComish.
Looking forward to the showdown in Swansea, McLaughlin said: “The Ospreys have won all their games so far this season too, so it will be another tough game for us.
“If we play as well as we have been I see no reason why we can’t get another win and that would put us in a really strong position. We lost by a point to them last season so there’s no doubt it will be another big challenge for us.”
Meanwhile, the Ospreys management have made four personnel changes to the team that beat Benetton Treviso 32-27 in the last round of matches.
There are first starts in the front row for Scott Baldwin and Aaron Jarvis, James Goode replaces Ian Evans in the second row and Barry Davies gets the nod at full-back in a reshuffled back-line.
Davies’ inclusion sees Richard Fussell move to the right wing and Tom Isaacs shift to outside centre. Hooker Richard Hibbard is back from an ankle injury, and versatile forward Jonathan Thomas will make his 150th appearance for the Welsh region.
OSPREYS: Barry Davies; Richard Fussell, Tom Isaacs, Andrew Bishop, Hanno Dirksen; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Duncan Jones, Scott Baldwin, Aaron Jarvis, Ian Gough, James Goode, Tom Smith, Justin Tipuric (capt), Jonathan Thomas.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Cai Griffiths, Joe Rees, James King, Joe Bearman, Matthew Morgan, Sonny Parker, Kristian Phillips.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Craig Gilroy, Nevin Spence, Luke Marshall, Ian Whitten; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Declan Fitzpatrick, Andi Kyriacou, Jerry Cronin, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Tim Barker, Willie Faloon, Ian Porter, James McKinney, Adam D’Arcy.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell, Martyn Lewis (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Huw Lewis (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ospreys to win: 1/2; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 8/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Ian Whitten (Ulster) – “Tight game, it’ll be a physical battle. We’ve really got to turn up (against the Ospreys), get stuck in and be aggressive from the start. Then hopefully we can impose our style of play and come away with a win.
“It’s good the way Ulster play – bringing the wingers in – because that means you get a decent bit of ball. I’ve been well involved in the matches so far and hopefully I can continue with that and make a bit of an impact.
“The way Doakie (Neil Doak) coaches us and the way Humph (David Humphreys) wants us to play is all about an attractive style of rugby.
“That’s what we want to do and thankfully this year we’ve shown, in glimpses, that we can do it by playing an up-tempo game. The more we play together, the better we’ll become at it.
“As a full-back Jared (Payne) was able to keep me right against Cardiff. I don’t have a lot of experience on the wing, but he has played there so he was really good in talking to me throughout the match. It was really beneficial for me having him there.”
Scott Johnson (Ospreys) – “Ulster will no doubt bring plenty of confidence with them after their good start to the season. They have recruited well over the summer.
“Jared Payne, in particular, is a good signing who will bring something different to the table for them, and I’m expecting them to be there challenging on all fronts year after a good season last time.
“For our part, we need to lift our all round performance up a couple of notches from where we were last weekend against Benetton Treviso. Yes, we got another win to make it three from three but we rode our luck at times, particularly in the first half.
“Thas been about picking up the performance level to get it to where we’ll need it to be to deal with the threats that Ulster have all over the park. It’s going to be a real test, and promises to be quite a contest at this early stage of the season.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ospreys – Points: Dan Biggar 47; Tries: Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb 2 each; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 30; Tries: Darren Cave 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, September 27, 2008 – Ospreys 43 Ulster 0, Liberty Stadium
Friday, April 3, 2009 – Ulster 13 Ospreys 16, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 12, 2009 – Ospreys 16 Ulster 20, Liberty Stadium
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 – Ulster 27 Ospreys 38, Ravenhill
Friday, September 3, 2010 – Ulster 27 Ospreys 26, Ravenhill
Sunday, February 13, 2011 – Ospreys 23 Ulster 22, Liberty Stadium
– Something has to give at the Liberty Stadium as both the Ospreys and Ulster have made 100% winning starts to the new RaboDirect PRO12 season
– The Ospreys’ only reversal in their last 14 home games in all competitions was a 22-20 loss to Munster on April 23
– Ulster’s only regular season defeat since February was a 34-26 reversal at Leinster on April 16
– The Ulstermen’s only defeat in their last nine matches against Welsh opponents was in this equivalent game in Swansea last season
– Each team won its respective home game with the two sides met last season. Ulster’s record in previous visits to the Liberty Stadium is played 7, won 2 and lost 5