Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Edinburgh Rugby

Luke Marshall

Luke Marshall gets the start at inside centre

Another week, another game of no tries for the men in white.

Despite the fact that we’re second in the PRO12 on tries scored (23), we’ve only managed to cross the whitewash once in the last three games and it’s impossible not to worry about something like that. However, with a new Director of Rugby at the helm it’s natural for a team to go through a bit of a transitional period, so there is also a case to wait it out and see what comes of it. At least our defence was solid for the most part last weekend.

And it’ll need to be rock solid this weekend too if the try drought continues because we come up against one of the league’s most resolute defences in Alan Solomons’ Edinburgh who have defended their way to sixth in the table so far this season. Much like us they’ve ridden an impressive home record to keep in touch at the top of the table and now they’re looking to carry that away from home and defeat a top four rival.

We already know how stern an opponent Edinburgh can be having lost to them twice this season in Scotland and, while we will have the crowd behind us tomorrow night, they will be no less of a challenge in Belfast than they are in the Scottish capital. Without any significant European action to concern themselves with (no offence to the Challenge Cup or anything) their entire focus will be on the PRO12 and that will make them even more dangerous.

They have an all-Scottish front row in Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and Willem Nel who took apart the Dragons last weekend, a back row that can afford to leave Scotland international Hamish Watson on the bench, while scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne marshals a dangerous back line that includes Tongan Will Helu, Scotsmen Matt Scott and Greig Tonks, and also some bloke named Michael Allen who we’ve never heard of before. To say Edinburgh have improved would be an understatement.

But we are still in excellent form at home in the PRO12 – not only have we started the season with three bonus point wins at the Kingspan Stadium, our sole defeat in Belfast since September 2013 was our loss to Leinster in May 2014. Our unbeaten run at home now stretches to 14 games and we’ll be desperate to extend that this weekend.

However, our record against Scottish opponents is not something to be bragging to about as we have lost our last three games against them – once away to Edinburgh and twice away to Glasgow. Edinburgh are also coming into this game in form having easily beaten the Newport-Gwent Dragons last week at BT Murrayfield with a four-try bonus point, their first since April when they put four tries past Zebre.

That said, Edinburgh have only won once on their travels this season when they squeaked a 27-24 win against Treviso in round two, and one of their away losses includes a 17-9 defeat at Zebre. They also haven’t won in Belfast since September 2009, but the added incentive of completing their first league double over us since the 2007/08 season will spur them on.

It’s important we avoid that. Somebody mentioned to me last week that to reach the play-offs a team can only afford to lose six or seven games a season and we’re already at four and we’ve only played eight games. Plus if we want to stand any chance in Europe then it’s crucial for us to start gaining some momentum otherwise Toulouse could do a Saracens on us and then we could be facing an early end to our season.

Based on how our season’s gone so far, maybe it’s only delaying the inevitable.

NB. Callum Black will be the player on duty at the URSC information point prior to the match (not Sam Arnold as previously advised). Why not come along between 18.45 and 19.10 for an autograph, a selfie or perhaps just for a quick chat with Callum?

The teams

Les Kiss continues to rotate and as such makes seven changes to the team that lost to Leinster last week. In the backs Luke Marshall is brought in at inside centre while there is a start for Rory Scholes on the wing in place of Craig Gilroy. Up front Rob Herring rotates in for Rory Best at hooker while Ricky Lutton is preferred to Wiehahn Herbst at tighthead. Franco van der Merwe comes back into the line-up at lock with Iain Henderson shifting into the back row where he is joined by Chris Henry and Roger Wilson.

Four changes made by Alan Solomons from last week’s win over the Dragons, all four of which are enforced by injury. Both Greig Tonks and Tom Brown drop out of the back line due to injury and are replaced by Jack Cuthbert and Dougie Fife in the back three while Sam Hidalgo-Clyne is also out due to injury and is replaced by Sean Kennedy at scrum-half. The only change in the forwards sees Anton Bresler rotate back into the line-up in the second row in place of Fraser McKenzie.

 

Ulster Rugby vs. Edinburgh Rugby

Friday 4th December, 19:35

Kingspan Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 9

 

Live on BBC2 NI and BBC2 Scotland

 

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Peter Nelson, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Luke Marshall, 11. Rory Scholes, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Kyle McCall, 2. Rob Herring (capt.), 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Dan Tuohy, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16. John Andrew, 17. Andrew Warwick, 18. Wiehahn Herbst, 19. Alan O’Connor, 20. Nick Williams, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Stuart McCloskey, 23. Louis Ludik.

EDINBURGH RUGBY

15. Jack Cuthbert, 14. Dougie Fife, 13. Chris Dean, 12. Matt Scott, 11. Will Helu, 10. Phil Burleigh, 9. Sean Kennedy; 1. Alasdair Dickinson, 2. Ross Ford, 3. Willem Nel, 4. Anton Bresler, 5. Alex Toolis, 6. Mike Coman (capt.), 7. John Hardie, 8. Cornell du Preez.

Replacements: 16. Neil Cochrane, 17. Rory Sutherland, 18. John Andress, 19. James Ritchie, 20. Hamish Watson, 21. Nathan Fowles, 22. Michael Allen, 23. Blair Kinghorn.

 

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 38th competition game)

Assistant Referees: Kieran Barry, Frank Murphy (both IRFU)

Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU)

TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)