Ulster picked up win number one of the new season away to provincial rivals Connacht last weekend. Six days later, they return to Ravenhill to face Munster’s conquerors Benetton Treviso, who are chasing back-to-back victories over Irish opposition.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, September 27
ULSTER (6th) v BENETTON TREVISO (8th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: 2013 Lions Rory Best and Tommy Bowe have been selected by Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe for the province’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill on Friday.
In total, there are 11 Ireland internationals in the starting line-up in a side that sees seven personnel changes and three positional switches to the one that beat Connacht at the Sportsground last Saturday.
Craig Gilroy starts at full-back and is joined in the back-three by Bowe, who starts on the right wing, and Michael Allen who retains his place on the left flank.
Jared Payne moves to outside centre where he is partnered by Luke Marshall. Paddy Jackson starts at out-half, while Paul Marshall replaces Ian Porter in the number 9 jersey.
Hooker Best, Ulster’s captain for the night, will combine with Ricky Lutton and Tom Court in the front row. Iain Henderson keeps his place in the second row but will don the number 4 shirt, with Dan Tuohy locking down alongside him.
In the back row, Robbie Diack is selected at blindside flanker with Roger Wilson moving to number 8. Chris Henry is retained at openside flanker.
Commenting on his selection, the returning Bowe, said: “It is great to be back. It has been a tough old pre-season with my wrist injury but I am delighted to be playing, delighted to be back fit again and looking forward to my first game at Ravenhill with the two new stands up.”
Tickets for the game, which is being shown live on BBC 2 Northern Ireland, are still available and can be purchased here. Tickets will also be available to buy on the gate.
Meanwhile, Benetton Treviso travel to Belfast with some extra pep in their step having defeated Munster 29-19 at home in round 3.
Head coach Franco Smith has given a vote of confidence to those players by naming an unchanged team to face Ulster, with Ludovico Nitoglia – the league’s top try scorer so far this season with three – starting on the right wing.
Former Leinster out-half Mat Berquist has impressed in his opening outings for the Italians, and he again forms a half-back partnership with Edoardo Gori.
Loosehead prop Michele Rizzo will be making his 50th league appearance for the club, while it will be cap number 185 for captain Antonio Pavanello who is overtaking Claudio Robazza on Treviso’s all-time appearances list.
ULSTER: Craig Gilroy; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Luke Marshall, Michael Allen; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Bronson Ross, Lewis Stevenson, Nick Williams, Michael Heaney, James McKinney, Darren Cave.
BENETTON TREVISO: Luke McLean; Ludovico Nitoglia, Michele Campagnaro, Alberto Sgarbi, Christian Loamanu; Mat Berquist, Edoardo Gori; Michele Rizzo, Enrico Ceccato, Alberto de Marchi, Antonio Pavanello (capt), Marco Fuser, Simone Favaro, Alessandro Zanni, Manoa Vosawai.
Replacements: Giovanni Maistri, Ignacio Fernandez-Rouyet, Pedro di Santo, Valerio Bernabò, Dean Budd, Robert Barbieri, Fabio Semenzato, Alberto di Bernardo.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/20; Draw: 35/1; Benetton Treviso to win: 10/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Rory Best (Ulster) – “It generally takes two to three games to be where you want to be. But you don’t get a lot of time to get up there – you have to be up and running early.
“I’d like to think that it’ll be a progression, getting slightly better every game. But I don’t want it to be a case of having a shocker this weekend, slightly better the next one and a wee bit better again the week after that.
“I’d like to think I’ll start from a standard that is somewhere close to where I can play, and then ideally get slightly better. There’s a standard you demand of yourself, a certain level of performance you don’t drop below.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago (since I played with the Lions in the summer). But when you’re coming back the pressure is put on you. You’re an international player so there’s a standard expected of you, but it’s the same as the pressure I’d put on myself now.
“Treviso’s record here speaks for itself. “From when they joined the PRO12 they’ve always been the strongest Italian team and every year they have got better, so their beating Munster last weekend wasn’t a surprise.
“They probably should have beaten the Ospreys before that, too. So that’s where they are, that’s the standard they play to. They’re a quality side and we will give them the respect they deserve. But more importantly, we need to get our own stuff right.”
Franco Smith (Benetton Treviso) – “I can’t say I’m not happy (with the win over Munster). We had a very good week, worked very well. Lots of lessons were learnt from the Scarlets game. It gave me a lot of pleasure to see the players on the pitch, especially the scrum.
“There are two sides to rugby, with the ball and without it. It’s not defence, it’s attack without the ball. We showed great concentration, giving away very few penalties, reducing their space to play.
“We took advantage of the few chances we had. We need to keep working, there are 28 games in the season so we have another 25 to go.
“It was only in the second half of last season that it really started to come together (for us). So we have a lot to look forward to and to work on.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 28; Tries: Roger Wilson, Michael Allen, Paddy Jackson 1 each; Benetton Treviso – Points: Mat Berquist 19; Tries: Ludovico Nitoglia 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, November 26, 2010 – Benetton Treviso 9 Ulster 19, Stadio di Monigo
Friday, January 7, 2011 – Ulster 32 Benetton Treviso 13, Ravenhill
Friday, October 7, 2011 – Ulster 12 Benetton Treviso 23, Ravenhill
Saturday, March 24, 2012 – Benetton Treviso 23 Ulster 27, Stadio di Monigo
Friday, November 23, 2012 – Benetton Treviso 15 Ulster 16, Stadio di Monigo
Friday, March 1, 2013 – Ulster 29 Benetton Treviso 29, Ravenhill
– Ulster’s three-match losing streak in the RaboDirect PRO12 ended with their 18-7 victory over Connacht in Galway last Saturday
– The Ulstermen were defeated in their last game at Ravenhill, 13-12 by Glasgow Warriors, and have not lost successive games at the historic Belfast venue since April 2010
– In 20 previous encounters with Italian opposition in all competition, Ulster have lost only once: 23-12 at home to Benetton Treviso in October 2011
– Benetton Treviso opened their win account for the 2013/14 season with their 29-19 victory at home to Munster last Friday
– The Italians have won just one of their last eight away games: 41-17 at the Scarlets in May
– The three previous clashes between the two sides at Ravenhill have been evenly split, one win apiece plus a draw