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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

Ulster have an opportunity to close the gap on second-placed Munster as they entertain the Scarlets in a RaboDirect PRO12 fixture that was postponed last month.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 14

ULSTER (3rd) v SCARLETS (6th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)

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Team News: Ulster back rower Stephen Ferris has been named on the bench for Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Scarlets at Ravenhill.

Ferris has not played since suffering an ankle injury in November 2012 and after 16 months of rehabilitation will make a phased return to play over the coming weeks.

Roger Wilson will make his 150th appearance for the province in the game and starts at blindside flanker.

The match will also see a first start for centre Stuart McCloskey who came on as a replacement in the win over the Newport Gwent Dragons a fortnight ago.

Jared Payne starts at full-back with Tommy Bowe, who scored two tries on his return against the Dragons, named on the right wing and former Ireland Under-20 international Rory Scholes continuing on the left wing.

The man-of-the-match from the Dragons clash, Darren Cave, is selected in midfield alongside the 21-year-old McCloskey.

Ruan Pienaar combines at half-back with Paddy Jackson, who has been released from international duty.

In the pack, John Afoa returns to the starting line-up where he joins Callum Black and Rob Herring in the front row.

Captain Johann Muller starts in the second row and is partnered by Robbie Diack who will don the number 5 jersey.

Sean Doyle starts at openside flanker with Wilson at blindside and the returning Nick Williams named at number 8.

The fit-again Ferris is joined on the bench by fellow forwards Niall Annett, Tom Court, Ricky Lutton and Lewis Stevenson, with backs Michael Heaney, Craig Gilroy and Ricky Andrew completing the matchday squad.

Meanwhile, Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby has made three changes to the team that secured an 18-13 victory over Munster at Parc y Scarlets earlier in the month.

Gareth Maule returns to the outside centre berth and Kirby Myhill and Jacobie Adriaanse pack down at front row alongside experienced loosehead prop Phil John.

It will be an historic evening for Scarlets’ South African second row duo George Earle and Johan Snyman as they make their 50th regional appearances in what is a ‘must win’ game for the Welsh region.

Emyr Phillips and Samson Lee have been released back to the Scarlets from the Wales set-up and will take their place on the replacements bench.

ULSTER: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Rory Scholes, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Robbie Diack, Roger Wilson, Sean Doyle, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Niall Annett, Tom Court, Ricky Lutton, Lewis Stevenson, Stephen Ferris, Michael Heaney, Craig Gilroy, Ricky Andrew.

SCARLETS: Jordan Williams; Kristian Phillips, Gareth Maule, Olly Barkley, Frazier Climo; Aled Thomas, Gareth Davies; Phil John, Kirby Myhill, Jacobie Adriaanse, George Earle, Johan Snyman, Josh Turnbull, John Barclay, Rob McCusker (capt).

Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Rob Evans, Samson Lee, Richard Kelly, Sione Timani, Aled Davies, Josh Lewis, Adam Warren.

Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway, Gary Glennon (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/9; Draw: 33/1; Scarlets to win: 9/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) – “Our form hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like it to be, but it was good to get a good 40 minutes first off in the last game against the Dragons.

“Obviously, it was a bit disjointed in the second half with a couple of forwards having to slot in at wing and a couple of guys out of position. As a squad we were happy with the first 40 minutes and hopefully we can build on that.

“Ravenhill is a ground we take a lot of pride in and we like to put in good performances at home. Facing the Scarlets will be a tough one, they’re playing with confidence at the minute and have won a couple of games on the bounce.

“It’s a big challenge for us. Hopefully we can play as well as we did in the first 40 minutes against the Dragons, but do it for 80 minutes this time.

“I think everyone is excited (about Stephen Ferris’ return). We have seen how hard he has worked.

“I think he is raring to go and I am really excited. Everyone in Ulster will be cheering him on once he gets back on the pitch.”

Simon Easterby (Scarlets) – “The conditions weren’t great (when we beat Ulster in November) but we played the weather well. We outmuscled them in some respects and that was a good performance from us.

“It set a bit of a template on how to play against Ulster who are at the moment playing really well.

“We’ll have to be at that sort of level again to go to Ulster and secure a performance and a result. It hasn’t always been happy hunting ground for us in recent years.

“The players are really confident with three wins on the trot. We have everything to play for.

“We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a difficult position in terms of the top four, but we feel pretty confident at the moment with the run-in that we’ve got that we can go to places like Ulster and Glasgow and get the wins.

“We collected five losing bonus points in games that we really should have won. We’ve started to win those games now and we’ve had three wins on the bounce – we still have seven games and 35 points up for grabs.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 92; Tries: Darren Cave 4; Scarlets – Points: Aled Thomas 53; Tries: Gareth Davies 7


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
Saturday, November 2, 2013 – Scarlets 17 Ulster 9, Parc y Scarlets


– Ulster’s only defeat at Ravenhill this season came in their first home match, 13-12 to Glasgow Warriors in the PRO12 on September 13

– The only Welsh region to have won in Belfast in the last four seasons was the Ospreys in 2013

– The Scarlets toppled league-leading Munster last time out and have now won their last three PRO12 encounters (their best run for 12 months)

– The Scarlets have won two of their last three away games in all competitions, but have won on just one of their last seven visits to an Irish province: 24-21 against Connacht in November 2013

– The Scarlets were 17-9 victors when the two teams met at Parc y Scarlets in round 7, but the Welshmen have only once before achieved a season’s double over the Ulstermen – back in 2008/9

– The Scarlets have won on just two of their previous 13 visits to Ravenhill in all competitions: 35-11 in the Heineken Cup in January 2007 and 16-9 in the PRO12 in September 2008