Ulster have stuttered in recent weeks and will be determined to put things right against a Benetton Treviso side that dominated Munster last Sunday. Mark Anscombe’s men need a solid victory to keep hold of pole position in the RaboDirect PRO12.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 1
ULSTER (1st) v BENETTON TREVISO (8th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made seven changes to the team that lost to Glasgow Warriors for Friday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against Benetton Treviso at Ravenhill.
Paddy Jackson and Darren Cave are named in the back-line, while Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Iain Henderson and Mike McComish return to the pack.
Anscombe has also made three positional changes, the most notable of which sees stand-in captain John Afoa switch from tighthead to loosehead prop. It will be the first time that Afoa has started for Ulster at loosehead.
Andrew Trimble moves from outside centre to his more familiar position on the right wing, while Michael Allen switches flanks and will start in the number 11 shirt.
Nigel Brady, Callum Black, Neil McComb and Ali Birch drop to the bench alongside Ricky Lutton, Paul Marshall, Niall O’Connor and Chris Cochrane.
Commenting on the team selection, Anscombe said: “It is good to give the guys who are on the periphery of the international team some game-time. We welcome them back and with the experience that they bring, they will only strengthen our side.”
There are fewer than 300 tickets remaining for the match. For tickets or for further information on Ulster games, please visit www.ulsterrugby.com.
Meanwhile, Benetton Treviso are bidding to make it two successive league victories over Irish sides having shocked Munster 34-10 last Sunday afternoon.
Unsurprisingly, head coach Franco Smith has kept faith with the same back-line from that bonus point success, apart from Luca Morisi’s inclusion at outside centre.
Wily full-back Brendan Williams will play his 229th match for Benetton Treviso which is just two less than Gianni Zanon, who is seventh on the Italian club’s all-time appearances list.
Robert Barbieri, Treviso’s top try scorer to date in this season’s league, links up with Dean Budd and number 8 Christian Loamanu in the back row.
Team captain Corniel van Zyl will have Valerio Bernabò for company in the second row with Bernabò making his 50th appearance in Treviso colours.
There is an all-new front row unit selected with hooker Franco Sbaraglini being flanked by props Alberto de Marchi and Lorenzo Cittadini.
ULSTER: Ricky Andrew; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Michael Allen; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; John Afoa (capt), Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Mike McComish, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Neil McComb, Ali Birch, Paul Marshall, Niall O’Connor, Chris Cochrane.
BENETTON TREVISO: Brendan Williams; Ludovico Nitoglia, Luca Morisi, Doppies la Grange, Giulio Toniolatti; Alberto di Bernardo, Fabio Semenzato; Alberto de Marchi, Franco Sbaraglini, Lorenzo Cittadini, Valerio Bernabò, Corniel van Zyl (capt), Robert Barbieri, Dean Budd, Christian Loamanu.
Replacements: Giovanni Maistri, Matteo Muccignat, Bees Roux, Marco Fuser, Marco Filippucci, Paul Derbyshire, James Ambrosini, Tommaso Iannone.
Referee: Andrew McMenemy (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, David Keane (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/20; Draw: 35/1; Benetton Treviso to win: 17/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Mark Anscombe (Ulster) – “Treviso nearly beat us last time (in November), so unless we get our act together and perform better we’re going to be in for another long night. They’re not going to come over and lay down so we’ve got to be more urgent in what we do.
““We offered the chance for Paddy (Jackson) to play this week and take on the kicking duties. Paddy has kicked well for us this season, but there was a reason why we changed earlier in the season.
One was that Paddy’s form had dipped a little and the fact is that Ruan (Pienaar) is a weapon for us and has the ability to kick goals from 55 metres, while Paddy does not.
“Ruan would get one or two kicks a game from 55 metres and he was not getting them. We were not giving him a chance by just throwing him the odd ball in a game. The best way for a goal-kicker to be on song is to get into a rhythm.
“Paddy (Wallace) has been bloody good for us this season. I’ve never known anything like it in my lifetime with the amount of ACL injuries.
“I think we have four or five this season, and normally maybe you would get one maybe every year or two. But to have this many is unheard of. Why? I have just no idea. Bad luck, misfortune or whatever.”
Franco Smith (Benetton Treviso) – “I was delighted with the result (against Munster). We’re worked hard with the players and they showed a desire and grit to get the result.
“I’m happy for the boys, they have worked hard, they have been criticised a lot so that performance was great. The worked that started last summer is paying off. It’s a real pleasure.
“Mark Anscombe hasn’t changed that much (at Ulster), he’s carried on a lot with what they were doing. They have a lot of faith with the ball in hand.
“They use their forwards and backs to carry the ball. It will be very different to the Munster game. They will be up for it after the defeat against Glasgow.
“They want to stay top of the table so we aren’t favourites, but that’s how I prefer it. We will give it our all and the objectives might be a bit different.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 87; Tries: Nick Williams 6; Benetton Treviso – Points: Alberto di Bernardo 61; Tries: Robert Barbieri 6
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
– Ulster still find themselves leading the RaboDirect PRO12 standings despite losing three of their last five games in the competition
– The Ulstermen’s only home PRO12 defeat this season remains the 16-12 reversal to Ospreys at Ravenhill in round 14
– Ulster have lost only one previous match to Italian opposition in any competition, 23-12 to Benetton Treviso in Belfast in the PRO12 in October 2011
– Benetton Treviso’s three-match losing run in the RaboDirect PRO12 ended with their 34-10 victory over Munster at the Stadio di Monigo last Sunday
– Treviso’s only win outside of Italy this season in any competition was 27-22 against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in round six of the PRO12. The Italians are going for a second successive win over an Irish province for the first time
– Ulster have won eight of their nine previous encounters with Treviso in all competitions, while the Italians won 23-12 on their most recent visit to Ravenhill