Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Cardiff Blues

Darren Cave

Darren Cave returns to the bench for Friday’s match

Last weekend was rather disappointing.

Friday night marked another poor away venture for us as we slipped to a second away defeat of the league season at Edinburgh, and then on top of that Ireland were found wanting on Sunday against Argentina and suffered yet another quarter-final exit on world rugby’s biggest stage, capping off one of our more forgettable weekends.

On the bright side, we get our internationals back a bit sooner.

And so we return to Belfast with the Blues on the way over looking to spoil our good home form. Cardiff started their season off with a thumping win at home to Zebre that saw them walk in nine tries against the Italians, but since then their season has gone downhill. New head coach Danny Wilson has been provided with a tough run of fixtures, and with his international stars gone he’s struggling already.

On top of that, how about this for a stat: should we avoid defeat tomorrow night we will equal our best ever unbeaten run at home in the league that we set over a decade ago. I think that deserves to stand alone as a credit to us as fans – we’ve had our away troubles but our home form has steered us through and we have to take a lot of the credit.

That record stretches back to May 2014 when Leinster won at the Kingspan Stadium meaning we’re unbeaten in 13 league games in Belfast. In fact our last six matches have all been won by the home side on the day, going back to our 23-23 draw with Munster towards the back end of last season.

Actually, all the stats point towards one result: a home win.

Cardiff will make it a clean sweep of away defeats to Irish opposition should they lose to us tomorrow night having already visited the Sportsground, the RDS Arena and Irish Independent Park this season, and they have lost all three games – this would be their fourth defeat in Ireland in as many rounds. Staggeringly, they haven’t actually won away from home in the PRO12 since the opening match of last season when they took all five points away to Zebre.

Meanwhile our record against the Blues is rather good. Our only defeat to Cardiff in our last six meetings with them was a 23-28 reverse at the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park back in March 2014, while Cardiff haven’t been successful in Belfast for five years, when they walked away with a 24-33 win back in April 2010.

Stats are not everything though, games in the PRO12 are never as straightforward as they seem. Cardiff will pose us threats, especially if they have their Welsh stars back and ready to transfer their World Cup hurt into their club form. But, as always, we should be good enough to back our home form and know that we are good enough to beat anyone.

And that should be enough to see us through.

The teams

Two changes for Ulster with Ian Humphreys returning to the starting line-up at fly-half in place of Peter Nelson and Lewis Stevenson replacing the still concussed Dan Tuohy. There is a welcome boost on the bench in the form of returning Ireland players Paddy Jackson and Darren Cave as well.

Cardiff have two returnees from the World Cup, but neither are Welsh. USA flanker Cam Dolan starts at blindside flanker in his first appearance for the region, while tighthead prop Taufa’ao Filise is named on the bench. Dolan is one of four changes for Danny Wilson’s side, with he and captain Josh Navidi returning to the back row in place of Ellis Jenkins and Manoa Vosawai. Winger Aled Summerhill, fresh off signing a new contract extension with the Blues, is recalled on the wing in place of Garyn Smith while centre Adam Thomas is preferred to Gavin Evans.

 

Ulster Rugby vs. Cardiff Blues

Friday 23rd October, 19:35

Kingspan Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 5

 

Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland

 

ULSTER RUGBY

15.Louis Ludik, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Sam Arnold, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Ian Humphreys, 9. Paul Marshall; 1. Callum Black, 2. Rob Herring (capt.), 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 4. Lewis Stevenson, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Roger Wilson, 7. Sean Reidy, 8. Nick Williams.

Substitutes: 16. John Andrew, 17. Andrew Warwick, 18. Ricky Lutton, 19. Dan Tuohy, 20. Willie Faloon, 21. David Shanahan, 22. Paddy Jackson, 23. Darren Cave.

 

CARDIFF BLUES

15.Dan Fish, 14. Aled Summerhill, 13. Tom Isaacs, 12. Adam Thomas, 11. Richard Smith, 10. Rhys Patchell, 9. Tavis Knoyle; 1. Sam Hobbs, 2. Matthew Rees, 3. Craig Mitchell, 4. Lou Reed, 5. James Down, 6. Cam Dolan, 7. Josh Turnbull, 8. Josh Navidi (capt.).

Substitutes: 16. Ethan Lewis, 17. Thomas Davies, 18. Taufa’ao Filise, 19. Chris Dicomidis, 20. Macauley Cook, 21. Lewis Jones, 22. Jarrod Evans, 23. Garyn Smith.

 

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 11th competition game)

Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Paul Haycock (both IRFU)

Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)

TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)