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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

Having won only one of their last six RaboDirect PRO12 matches, the pressure is on Ulster to get back to winning ways against an in-form Scarlets side and regain the ground they have lost in recent weeks.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, December 2

ULSTER (8th) v SCARLETS (6th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)

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Team News: Ulster have been boosted by the return of a number of key players to the matchday 23 for Friday’s vital RaboDirect PRO12 game against the Scarlets at Ravenhill.

The province’s head coach Brian McLaughlin has made five changes in total to his starting line-up, including four in the pack.

Stephen Ferris, Rory Best, Craig Gilroy and Chris Henry will all start having been rested for last weekend’s defeat in Glasgow.

Ulster can also call on prop John Afoa who has returned from New Zealand. The All Black replaces Declan Fitzpatrick who has been ruled out after suffering a neck injury during a scrum against the Warriors.

Best’s inclusion at hooker sees Andi Kyriacou drop out of the matchday squad, as Nigel Brady retains his place on the bench. Ferris and Henry join Pedrie Wannenburg in an experienced back row.

Gilroy has been named on the left wing in place of Scotland international Simon Danielli, who misses out on a squad place.

The backs remain otherwise unchanged but Ruan Pienaar is a notable inclusion on the bench, despite not being named in the provisional squad.

The South African scrum half has been ruled out since picking up a hamstring injury against the Scarlets at the end of October.

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.

Meanwhile, the Scarlets are without eight of their key international players who are committed to the Wales camp for an international friendly against Australia on Saturday afternoon.

Stephen Jones, who appeared in a Scarlets shirt for a staggering 300th time last weekend, will lead his Scarlets team after a strong performance as skipper last weekend against the Newport Gwent Dragons.

New to the Scarlets line-up are two Llanelli RFC players who have been impressing in the Premiership – lock Adam Powell will make his second Scarlets appearance and 19-year-old winger from Bangor, Iolo Evans, who has been part of the Scarlets, has been named on the bench.

New Tongan signing Viliami Iongi, who landed in Llanelli last week from Auckland, has been firing in his first training sessions with the Welsh region and gets a start on the right wing.

The back row is boosted by the return of Wales international Rob McCusker alongside two of the region’s new breed, Mat Gilbert and Kieran Murphy.

ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Jackson, Ian Whitten.

SCARLETS: Daniel Evans; Viliami Iongi, Nick Reynolds, Adam Warren, Sean Lamont; Stephen Jones (capt), Gareth Davies; Phil John, Ken Owens, Deacon Manu, Lou Reed, Adam Powell, Mat Gilbert, Rob McCusker, Kieran Murphy.

Replacements: Emyr Phillips, Iestyn Thomas, Simon Gardiner, Damian Welch, Johnathan Edwards, Rhodri Williams, Daniel Newton, Iolo Evans.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, Eanna O’Dowd (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/6; Draw: 20/1; Scarlets to win: 4/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “Obviously the more games we lose the less chance there is of a top four finish. At the minute that’s still right up there as one of our goals.

“If you look at the next three games that we have (the Scarlets and Aironi twice in the Heineken Cup) before we have Leinster (at the RDS), they really are crucial to the rest of our season.

“If we want to fulfil our ambition to get to the top four again then we’ve got to beat the Scarlets on Friday night. And if we want to push forward in Europe then the two Aironi games are crucial for us as well.

“Ruan (Pienaar) trained on Tuesday, but the medics are still a little bit concerned about him so we didn’t want to put him in the squad and then have to withdraw him.

“We’re just working with him to see how he progresses this week. He was a little bit sore at the weekend so we took it back a little bit. He was back training – he did a little bit of passing and he ran with the team.

“If he has no reaction we’ll try to push him on a little bit. But we don’t want to risk him at the weekend if there’s a doubt.”

Nigel Davies (Scarlets) – “We know that Ulster will be at full strength and some may say that without our internationals it’s more of a challenge – but all our players are keen to wear the shirt at the moment.

“There’s a huge game against Munster on the horizon, so they’ll want to take their opportunities in a bid to get selected for such a big fixture for the club.

“We have a few new Scarlets in our side on Friday night, but we’re also strong on experience and ability and we go to Ulster on the back of a good run and with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and forward momentum.

“It is a very competitive environment at Parc y Scarlets the moment and that creates a positive drive and ambition throughout the squad.

“We’ve got a heavy and intense period of rugby ahead of us, with the back-to-backs in Europe then a derby against the Ospreys on Boxing Day, so we are managing our squad too for the period ahead.

“We know Ulster will be strong and need a big performance, our results against them last season had a big bearing on us missing out on a final four spot so we must take the game to them. It should be a good contest.”

Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 65; Tries: Darren Cave 3; Scarlets – Points: Dan Newton 47; Tries: Rhys Thomas, Adam Warren 3 each


Saturday, May 16, 2009 – Scarlets 43 Ulster 17, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, October 2, 2009 – Ulster 45 Scarlets 24, Ravenhill
Friday, March 5, 2010 – Scarlets 25 Ulster 8, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, February 18, 2011 – Scarlets 16 Ulster 18, Parc y Scarlets
Friday, April 1, 2011 – Ulster 20 Scarlets 18, Ravenhill
Saturday, October 29, 2011 – Scarlets 24 Ulster 17, Parc y Scarlets


– Ulster have won just one of their last six RaboDirect PRO12 encounters, earning a 22-3 home victory over Connacht in round 8

– The Ulstermen’s only loss in their last dozen matches at Ravenhill was to Benetton Treviso on October 7

– The Scarlets are undefeated in their last eight matches in all competitions since their 20-10 loss in Treviso in October

– The Welshmen have not won in Ireland since a trip to Connacht back in January 2009

– The Scarlets won 24-17 at Parc y Scarlets when the two teams met in the RaboDirect PRO12 on October 29. The Scarlets’ most recent victory at Ravenhill was a 16-9 success in September 2008