Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Scarlets

Roger Wilson

Roger Wilson will make his 200th appearance for Ulster this weekend

Another week, another frustrating win!

This week it’s a little less frustrating than our victory over the Dragons as at least against Glasgow we were in control for most of the game as opposed to scraping it at the very end like a week previous. However we still weren’t clinical enough in the “red zone” and we let the Warriors away from the Kingspan with a losing bonus point which may (or may not) prove crucial in May. We hope not, but right now it’s so congested at the top of the table you really can’t tell.

In the end though, it was another win recorded, we are still top of the pile in the Guinness PRO12 and we inflicted a defeat onto one of our play-off rivals that keeps them that little bit further behind us for the moment. During the international periods getting the win first and foremost is the most important thing – only after that can you concern yourself with bonus points.

This again will apply this weekend as the Scarlets come rolling into town on Sunday.

Wait, did you say Sunday?

But Ulster don’t play at home on a Sunday!

Not usually we don’t, but for this week we do, and you can blame S4C’s 2:30pm Sunday slot for having to miss your Sunday lunch. Not that we have a poor record in Belfast on a Sunday – anybody else remember our last Sunday home game when we sent the Tigers back to Leicester with their tails between their legs? Rather it is simply an unfamiliar day for us to be heading over to the Kingspan Stadium on!

Date and time aside, we’re in for another battle royale as we look to put a little bit more distance between ourselves and the third-placed Scarlets with our fourth successive PRO12 win, and there’s also the small matter of keeping ourselves top of the league too. As I will probably say every week while we sit in first, it’s better to be looking down at those below us than looking up at those above us!

The Scarlets will have different ideas though – they too are in brilliant form this season and have certainly surprised a few by hanging around as long as they have. They sit a mere point behind us and if they can go one step further than the Dragons and Glasgow did in the last few weeks then they will not only leapfrog us but they will gain a great amount of confidence that they could make the play-offs for the first time since the 2012/13 season.

They have hit a rough patch though. For the first time since he arrived in Llanelli, John Barclay has (deservedly) been called up to the Scotland squad and, combined with injury to openside flanker James Davies, the Scarlets’ back row has been weakened for his loss. Their most potent weapon negated, the Scarlets have struggled to dominate games like they did during the World Cup at the start of the season.

That, combined with a raft of injuries and international call-ups, means it’s a remarkably depleted Scarlets team that comes to our shores and we should be aiming to send them back with nothing and with us back at the top of the PRO12 table once more. As I said at the start, bonus points should be a distant thought – getting the win against a play-off rival should be our number one priority without a shadow of a doubt.

As long as we keep winning then everyone else will be playing catch up.

URSC INFO POINT: Call into the URSC Info Point before the game and see who you could meet. You never know who’ll be hanging around prior to kick-off…

The stats

We are still top of the table courtesy of our win over Glasgow last weekend, although now it is only on points difference from our Irish cousins Connacht after they put four tries past the Newport-Gwent Dragons last Thursday. We are also the form team in the PRO12 having picked up 22 points from our last six outings.

We haven’t lost at the Kingspan Stadium to non-Irish opponents since Glasgow were the visitors to Belfast in September 2013.

The Scarlets’ last four meetings have all gone the way of the home side and our Welsh visitors haven’t won on the road since they were away at Treviso in early December. However the Scarlets won our early season meeting 22-12 and are looking to complete their first double over us since the 2008/09 season.

The teams

Seven changes to the Ulster team that defeated the Warriors last weekend with Roger Wilson making his 200th appearance for Ulster at number eight. Wilson replaces the injured Nick Williams at the base of the scrum, while in the front row there is a first senior start for John Andrew who replaces the injured Rob Herring at hooker. The two other changes in the forwards see Andy Warwick come in at loosehead prop for Callum Black while Chris Henry makes his return to the starting line-up after overcoming a shoulder injury at openside flanker. In the backs Paul Marshall starts at scrum-half with Ruan Pienaar only on the bench due to a concussion and he is partnered at half-back by captain for the afternoon Paddy Jackson. The final change is in the centre with Luke Marshall starting at inside centre having been released from the Ireland squad.

Just two changes for the Scarlets, both of which are at half-back with Aled Davies and Aled Thomas replacing Rhodri Williams and Steven Shingler respectively. Maselino Paulino returns from suspension to be named among the replacements.

 

Ulster Rugby vs. Scarlets

Sunday 21st February, 14:30

Kingspan Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 15

 

Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland and S4C

 

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Stuart Olding, 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Luke Marshall, 11. Jacob Stockdale, 10. Paddy Jackson (capt.), 9. Paul Marshall; 1. Andy Warwick, 2. John Andrew, 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Alan O’Connor, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Robbie Diack, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16. Johnny Murphy, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Bronson Ross, 19. Pete Browne, 20. Clive Ross, 21. Ruan Pienaar, 22. Ian Humphreys, 23. Sammy Arnold.

SCARLETS

15. Michael Collins, 14. Gareth Owen, 13. Regan King, 12. Hadleigh Parkes (capt.), 11. DTH van der Merwe, 10. Aled Thomas, 9. Aled Davies; 1. Phil John, 2. Kirby Myhill, 3. Peter Edwards, 4. George Earle, 5. David Bulbring, 6. Aaron Shingler, 7. Will Boyde, 8. Morgan Allen.

Replacements: 16. Ryan Elias, 17. Dylan Evans, 18. Rhodri Jones, 19. Maselino Paulino, 20. Rory Pitman, 21. Rhodri Williams, 22. Dan Jones, 23. Steffan Evans.

 

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 41st competition game)

Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, John Carvill (both IRFU)

Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)

TMO: Alan Rogan (IRFU)