Ulster are poised to return to the top four of the RaboDirect PRO12 if they can overcome Edinburgh for the second time this season, and fourth-placed Glasgow Warriors fail to get a result away to the Ospreys.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 2
ULSTER (5th) v EDINBURGH (11th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: Head coach Brian McLaughlin has been forced into making some changes to the Ulster starting line-up for the visit of Edinburgh to Ravenhill on Friday night.
Centre Nevin Spence has been ruled out of Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 match with a hand injury, so McLaughlin has been forced to reshuffle his back-line.
Ian Whitten is moved from the left wing to midfield where he will partner captain Paddy Wallace. Stefan Terblanche moves to fill the wing berth vacated by Whitten, meaning Adam D’Arcy earns a recall at full-back.
Paul Marshall and Ruan Pienaar will form the half-back partnership for the second consecutive week, while Craig Gilroy remains on the right wing.
There are fewer changes up front. Chris Henry will travel to Paris with the Ireland squad so Pedrie Wannenburg moves to the lindside of the scrum and Robbie Diack gets a run-out in the number 8 position.
The front five is unchanged from the side that started in the 15-14 win over Ospreys at the Belfast venue last weekend.
With Simon Danielli also ruled out after picking up a hamstring injury against the Ospreys, young backs Luke Marshall and Chris Cochrane are also named among the replacements.
Neil McComb and Mike McComish have been called up to the bench to provide cover in the forwards.
There are still tickets available for Friday’s game. They can be bought online at www.ulsterrugby.com or by calling the ticket office on 02890493222 (ticketing option). Alternatively, you can pay at the gate on match night.
Ulster Rugby are appealing to supporters to be mindful of local residents and to avoid parking in the immediate vicinity of the Ravenhill grounds on match nights.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh boss Michael Bradley has made four changes to his starting line-up for the round 17 trip to Belfast.
Sep Visser, Phil Godman and John Houston come in for Chris Paterson, Gregor Hunter and the injured Jim Thompson (ankle) and take up the right wing, out-half and inside centre spots respectively.
Their introduction means Tom Brown reverts to his favoured full-back position and Matt Scott moves to outside centre to accommodate the incoming Visser and Houston.
Argentinian cap Ulises Gamboa is the only change up front as he earns his first start for the club in place of Jack Gilding, who moves to the replacements bench.
Other changes to the replacements see the return of Robin Hislop (prop) and Harry Leonard (out-half), while lock Robert McAlpine could make his league debut if called upon.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Craig Gilroy, Ian Whitten, Paddy Wallace (capt), Stefan Terblanche; Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall; Paddy McAllister, Andi Kyriacou, John Afoa, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Ian Humphreys, Luke Marshall, Chris Cochrane.
EDINBURGH: Tom Brown; Sep Visser, Matt Scott, John Houston, Tim Visser; Phil Godman, Chris Leck; Kyle Traynor, Andrew Kelly, Ulises Gamboa, Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, Stuart McInally, Roddy Grant (capt), Netani Talei.
Replacements: Alun Walker, Robin Hislop, Jack Gilding, Robert McAlpine, Hamish Watson, Alex Black, Harry Leonard, Chris Paterson.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, Brian MacNeice (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/4; Draw: 20/1; Edinburgh to win: 3/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “We were in the top four briefly last week and that’s where we want to be. We need to be at our best but if we get the win, it will give us something more to build on as were target the PRO12 semis.
“But Edinburgh are a very good team and they are ranked above us in Europe. They’ve proved how good they are by qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and they like to play a good style of rugby under Michael Bradley.
“We played very well against them at the turn of the year and we will have to produce something similar at Ravenhill.
“For us, the 20-minute period after half-time will be crucial. That’s when we have to step it up and keep improving through to the end of the match.
“We have a bit of a break after this game, so we are hoping to have quite a few of the injured players back for the match against Treviso later this month.
“The players get a huge lift from playing in front of their home crowd and there is no doubt it has a positive effect on results. As always, we are determined to produce a performance for the fans and hopefully get the result.”
Michael Bradley (Edinburgh) – “We’ve identified with the players that, in our recent matches away at home and away, we’ve had opportunities but we haven’t been taking them, which you simply can’t afford to do at this level.
“In spite of that, we haven’t sought to change too much for this weekend as the same formula applies.
“We will look to continue to create those chances but we must take and finish them. If we do that then we’re capable of winning this match.
“It’s a matter of concentration for the 80 minutes, doing the basics right and taking the opportunities that present themselves.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 100; Tries: Darren Cave 4; Edinburgh – Points: Greig Laidlaw 123; Tries: Tim Visser 11
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, January 9, 2009 – Edinburgh 21 Ulster 15, Murrayfield
Fiday, September 18, 2009 – Ulster 13 Edinburgh 16, Ravenhill
Sunday, April 25, 2010 – Edinburgh 25 Ulster 37, Murrayfield
Friday, September 17, 2010 – Ulster 29 Edinburgh 21, Ravenhill
Friday, October 22, 2010 – Edinburgh 21 Ulster 16, Murrayfield
Friday, January 6, 2012 – Edinburgh 20 Ulster 42, Murrayfield
– Ulster have lost just one of their last 18 encounters at Ravenhill in all competitions since December 2010, going down 23-12 to Benetton Treviso on October 7
– No Scottish side has beaten Ulster at Ravenhill since Glasgow Warriors were the visitors in December 2009
– Edinburgh have suffered five straight defeats in the RaboDirect PRO12 since their 23-23 draw at home to Glasgow back in late December
– If Edinburgh fail to win this game they will equal their record for the longest losing run – set in 2010
– Ulster have won four of their last five fixtures with Edinburgh, while the Scots have not been victorious at Ravenhill since September 2009