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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Cardiff Blues

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Cardiff Blues

Third plays first in the RaboDirect PRO12 as in-form Ulster look to continue their winning start to the campaign against a side they beat twice last season, putting 69 points on them in the process.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, September 16

ULSTER (3rd) v CARDIFF BLUES (1st), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/BBC 2 Wales)

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Team News: Kiwi recruit Jared Payne will make his Ulster debut in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Cardiff Blues.

Payne will start at full-back in place of Adam D’Arcy who drops to the replacements bench. The Ulster back-line is otherwise unchanged from the side that played Aironi last Saturday.

There are three personnel changes up front. Declan Fitzpatrick is named at loosehead prop with Paddy McAllister listed among the replacements. Andi Kyriacou and Jerry Cronin complete the front row.

Lewis Stevenson comes in to partner Dan Tuohy in the second row, with Neil McComb providing positional cover on the bench.

In the back row, Robbie Diack will start at number 8 and stand-in captain Chris Henry switches to the openside flanker berth.

Mike McComish is poised to make his first competitive appearance for Ulster from the bench, having tasted some action in pre-season.

With Cardiff notching two bonus point wins in the opening two rounds, this is expected to be Ulster’s toughest test yet this season. Brian McLaughlin’s men are also in good form, especially at home where they have won all eight of their games in 2011.

Meanwhile, Blues coaches Gareth Baber and Justin Burnell have made four changes to the team that claimed a 33-18 win over Benetton Treviso last Sunday.

In the backs, the skilful Casey Laulala returns at outside centre with Dafydd Hewitt moving to the bench.

Ceri Sweeney, Cardiff’s top scorer in this season’s league, comes back in at out-half with youngster Rhys Patchell covering on the bench. Gareth Davies tweaked a hamstring against Treviso.

In the forwards, Xavier Rush will take over from Andries Pretorius who picked up a bump on the knee against Treviso.

The returning Paul Tito leads the team from the second row. Cardiff RFC prop James Monck is on the bench after Ryan Harford suffered a minor shoulder injury in the victory over the Italians.

ULSTER: Jared Payne; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Ian Whitten; Ian Humphreys, 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, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Ian Porter, Paddy Jackson, Adam D’Arcy.

CARDIFF BLUES: Chris Czekaj; Alex Cuthbert, Casey Laulala, Gavin Evans, Tom James; Ceri Sweeney, Lewis Jones; Sam Hobbs, Rhys Thomas, Scott Andrews, Michael Paterson, Paul Tito (capt), Ma’ama Molitika, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush.

Replacements: Rhys Williams, Nathan Trevett, James Monck, James Down, Thomas Young, Richie Rees, Rhys Patchell, Dafydd Hewitt.

Referee: James Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: John Carvill, David Keane (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 2/5; Draw: 20/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 15/8

Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “Cardiff are playing very, very well at the minute. They’ve played two games and they’ve got a bonus point in each so we’re looking forward to the challenge.

“Against Glasgow and Aironi we played reasonably well at times, but we need to be a little bit more consistent. Cardiff, with their quality, will make sure that we really have to be on top of our job.

“We need to improve our set pieces – they weren’t good enough (against Aironi) and we know that. If they are down below par on Friday night, Cardiff have the quality to make us play.”

Scott Andrews (Cardiff Blues) – “I think this match is a bit of a step up. We lost to Ulster twice quite heavily last season, so taking nothing away from Edinburgh and Treviso, it’s definitely a step up and a difficult challenge.

“We’re playing a different style of rugby now, with a bit more width to our game and forwards playing with ball in hand, with a lot more skill required from the forwards, so hopefully we can continue that.

“I think it’s a style of play that the boys enjoy. Much as the front five do the hard work they do enjoy having the ball in hand and I think the whole squad enjoy playing that style and are buying into it.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 23; Tries: Darren Cave, Paul Marshall, Chris Henry, Ian Whitten, Dan Tuohy, Craig Gilroy 1 each; Cardiff Blues – Points: Ceri Sweeney 20; Tries: Sam Hobbs, Tom James 2 each


Friday, September 12, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 16 Ulster 15, Arms Park
Friday, April 24, 2009 – Ulster 9 Cardiff Blues 11, Ravenhill
Friday, March 26, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 19 Ulster 9, Cardiff City Stadium
Saturday, Apil 3, 2010 – Ulster 24 Cardiff Blues 33, Ravenhill
Sunday, November 21, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 15 Ulster 37, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, February 25, 2011 – Ulster 32 Cardiff Blues 13, Ravenhill


– Ulster have hit the ground running just like they did last year when they won their opening three matches

– The Ulstermen have won ten of their last eleven regular season matches in the competition. Ulster have won all eight home matches they have played at Ravenhill in 2011

– Cardiff Blues top the RaboDirect PRO12 table after two rounds courtesy of two bonus point wins, but have not won their opening three games of a season since the 2007/08 season

– Ulster achieved a season’s double over the Blues last season for the first time since the 2005/06 campaign. But the Cardiff-based side have won on three of their last four visits to Ravenhill