Having overcome the Ospreys and Cardiff in recent league outings, in-form Ulster are aiming for a hat-trick of wins over the Welsh regions when they visit the Scarlets on Saturday.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, November 2
SCARLETS (7th) v ULSTER (4th), Parc y Scarlets, 6.30pm (live BBC Sport NI website/S4C)
Team News: Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made eight personnel changes and three positional switches to the team for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 duel with the Scarlets in Llanelli.
Eight Ulster players are away on international duty, however Andrew Trimble and Roger Wilson were released by Ireland for this Parc y Scarlets clash.
Johann Muller misses the round 7 match having suffered a calf injury, so Jared Payne is named as captain – a role he last took on in the pre-season win over Leinster.
The New Zealander will start at full-back in place of Stuart Olding who is also unavailable as he was concussed during last weekend’s bonus point victory over Cardiff.
Trimble starts on the right wing with Michael Allen selected on the left. Darren Cave and Chris Farrell are paired togerher in midfield, with Ruan Pienaar moving from scrum half to out-half and Paul Marshall donning the number 9 jersey.
In the front row, the only change sees Rob Herring picked at hooker with John Afoa and Callum Black selected on either side.
There is a whole new second row with Lewis Stevenson and Neil McComb starting, while in the back row Wilson moves from the back of the scrum to openside flanker, Robbie Diack keeps his place on the blindside and Nick Williams returns at number 8.
The game is live on the BBC Sport NI website and on S4C – Channel 120 – Freesat viewers; Channel 166 – Virgin TV; Channel 134 – Sky.
Meanwhile, with the memories of losing out on a place in last season’s league final to a strong Ulster side last May, there has been plenty of motivation in the Scarlets camp this week after drawing their last two games in succession.
With seven of the Scarlets squad away on international duty, there are six changes to the starting line-up from last weekend’s draw down in Parma against Zebre.
Gareth Owen returns to full fitness at full-back, with a new centre partnership in place for the Ulster tie – Gareth Maule and Adam Warren come in to replace Jon Davies and Scott Williams.
Jordan Williams returns to the left wing after missing out in Italy with a minor shoulder sprain, Kirby Myhill gets a start at hooker with Ken Owens and Emyr Phillips away with Wales and Samson Lee returns to the tighthead prop role after a two-week suspension.
In the back row, Josh Turnbull moves to openside flanker with Sione Timani in at number 8, while captain Rob McCusker is still sidelined with a calf injury.
Scotland flanker John Barclay returns from intense training all week and is a notable inclusion on the Welsh region’s replacements bench.
Experienced Scarlets prop Phil John is handed the honour of captaining the team on Saturday evening at on his 270th appearance for the regional outfit.
SCARLETS: Gareth Owen; Nick Reynolds, Gareth Maule, Adam Warren, Jordan Williams; Steve Shingler, Gareth Davies; Phil John (capt), Kirby Myhill, Samson Lee, Jake Ball, George Earle, Aaron Shingler, Josh Turnbull, Sione Timani
Replacements: Darran Harris, Rob Evans, Jacobie Adriaanse, Johan Synman, John Barclay, Aled Davies, Aled Thomas, Chris Knight.
ULSTER: Jared Payne (capt); Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Chris Farrell, Michael Allen, Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall; Callum Black, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Lewis Stevenson, Neil McComb, Robbie Diack, Roger Wilson, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Kyle McCall, Ricky Lutton, Mike McComish, Sean Doyle, James McKinney, Ricky Andrew, David McIlwaine.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Andrew Davies (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Scarlets to win: 13/8; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 1/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Callum Black (Ulster) – “It was good to get the win last weekend against Cardiff because obviously they were coming off a good win against Toulon so we knew that their confidence would have been up.
“Now it’s on to Scarlets who themselves are going really well. They have had two good games in Europe and they have some dangerous players, so we are going to have to be at our best.
“I was pretty happy with my performance (against Cardiff). Obviously it’s always good when the scrum goes well. It was good to get a start and to show what I am all about. Now my aim is to try and keep that number 1 shirt for as long as possible.
“We (myself and Tom Court) are good mates off the pitch and it’s good to have healthy competition in the squad.
“If you get comfortable in your position then you are not going to improve as a player. We always push ourselves in training and obviously if we can both do that then we are both going to be better players.
“The scrum has been going well but we do work extremely hard – two or three sessions a week. Obviously you have to get your set piece right. With the personnel that we have in our squad – we have a lot of strong props, some good hookers and throughout our whole pack, even our back five put great weight into our scrum.
“After every game we sit down and analyse our performance, even if we have had a good scrumming performance we are always looking to improve.”
Simon Easterby (Scarlets) – “We know we’ll have to be really accurate, Ulster are tough opponents and with the quality they have built into their side, they are still very competitive even during international phases in the season.
“They are very well-coached and have shown their ability in the last few weeks in Europe both home and away and still got a result against Cardiff Blues last time out following on from the highs of the previous weeks.
“That shows their class and we’re well aware of certain individuals in their team and what they bring.
“They have some real quality throughout the spine of their team and that depth becomes apparent now in the next few weeks; while the balance of some squads can be really disrupted with international call-ups.
“The disruption to our pack with international call-ups has not been quite as severe as our back-line and we’ve had some consistency in forwards selection over recent weeks so hopefully that will be a good foundation for us.
“We want to get back to winning ways in front of our home support and this group will be conscious of carrying the mantle now for the Scarlets who are away during a key phase in our season.
“The PRO12 league points we gained during this time of the season proved vital in us achieving a top four play-off place last May.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Scarlets – Points: Steve Shingler 35; Tries: Gareth Davies 3; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 62; Tries: Michael Allen 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, April 1, 2011 – Ulster 20 Scarlets 18, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 29, 2011 – Scarlets 24 Ulster 17, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, December 2, 2011 – Ulster 24 Scarlets 17, Ravenhill
Sunday, December 2, 2012 – Scarlets 12 Ulster 19, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, January 4, 2013 – Ulster 47 Scarlets 17, Ravenhill
Friday, May 10, 2013 – Semi-final – Ulster 28 Scarlets 17, Ravenhill
– The Scarlets’ 16-all draw in Parma last Friday was their second in succession, following the 26-all tie at home to Racing Metro 92 in the Heineken Cup
– The Scarlets have won just one home game since April: 26-10 over Benetton Treviso on September 14. The Welshmen have been defeated in their last three clashes with Irish provinces
– Ulster have won their last six fixtures in all competitions since Glasgow Warriors beat them 13-12 at Ravenhill on September 13
– Ulster’s only loss in their last six matches against Welsh regions was 15-8 to the Dragons at Rodney Parade in the opening round of the RaboDirect PRO12 this season
– The Scarlets’ only victory over the Ulstermen since March 2010 was 24-17 at Parc y Scarlets in October 2011