Match Preview: Glasgow Warriors vs. Ulster Rugby

Paddy Jackson

Paddy Jackson will make his 100th Ulster appearance against Glasgow this weekend

I think that was a much-needed break we got.

Results prior to our three weeks off for the end of the Six Nations had been patchy at best (a home defeat to the Scarlets and an away defeat to Cardiff not ideal) and although we managed to rectify our position a little bit with our 32-0 win over Zebre in Belfast in Round 17, the fact it took us until the 80th minute to put the fourth try past them speaks volumes of how tired that side was after 16 weeks of gruelling rugby.

Throw into the mix key injuries not just to big names like Iain Henderson and Tommy Bowe but also to key squad members such as Wiehahn Herbst and Louis Ludik and you realise how much our squad has been stretched over the most recent run of games. So again, I conclude, this rest has come at the perfect time for the team to refresh themselves both physically and mentally.

And now we return to action, our trio of internationals not available this week but at least back in camp, with a renewed optimism that we can put our past form behind us and go on a strong run to finish our season on a high and potentially steal away one of the home semi-final spots from either Connacht or Leinster.

It’ll take some effort though as to do so not only will we have to take down three of our play-off rivals in the form of Glasgow, Connacht and Leinster but we also have to go away to the Ospreys in the final round probably needing a result from that game too. Zebre should provide some relief in mid-April but you can’t rely on that as proven by last season’s fiasco.

Can we do it? Of course we can. If we can re-find that form that saw us blow away Toulouse back-to-back then we’re more than capable of defeating anyone in the PRO12, however at the same time if we can’t find any sort of consistency in our performance levels then we will be sorely found out at the end of the season. Don’t forget, our place in next season’s Champions’ Cup isn’t yet guaranteed.

It would be a huge step in the right direction, and a massive statement, if we could take down Glasgow this weekend at Scotstoun. To defeat the defending champions on their own turf (if you can call the sandlot at Scotstoun turf) would be a real confidence booster and would not only push us up the table but it would also inflict a major blow to their top four hopes at the same time.

On the flipside, if we do lose there is the potential that Glasgow could go level with us on points in the table or potentially even above us. With a game in hand over Zebre still to be played, a loss to the Warriors tomorrow would present them with a glorious opportunity to leap above us in the table and take one of the play-off places at our expense.

It is a reflection on how close the PRO12 is this season that at the end of this weekend we could find ourselves anywhere between nine points ahead of Glasgow or one point behind them.

It will be a tricky task to win in Scotland though. Unlike us, Gregor Townsend has all of his internationals back at his disposal including his injured pairing of captain Jonny Gray and Finn Russell, two highly influential players who will impact the game dramatically. It will take a lot for us to pick up four points this weekend, but we know that if we do then those four points will be deserved and hard-earned.

And who knows? With several of our injured players back this weekend (a certain flanker will be a very valuable asset) and a refreshed mindset, there’s definitely potential for us to cause a little bit of an upset and steal a valuable four points that will set us up perfectly for the remaining four games that will define our season.

We have to win at Scotstoun at some point, right?

The stats

Our opponents are on a four game winning streak since their last defeat – which was a 13-10 loss against us at the Kingspan Stadium on the 12th February. The Warriors are also undefeated at home (both at Scotstoun Stadium and at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock) in the PRO12 since Round 1 when they lost to the Scarlets at Scotstoun Stadium.

On the other hand, our 32-0 win against Zebre three weeks ago snapped a two-game losing streak for us and took us into the break on a high. Our record against Scottish opponents works against us though – our last five matches with Scottish teams have all been won by the home side on the day, something that we will hope to change.

Should we win, however, it will be the first time we’ll have completed the league double over Glasgow since the 2011/12 season and it will mark the first time we’ll have won at Scotstoun in the league with our only win there so far being in the Heineken Cup in October 2012.

The teams

Glasgow are able to welcome back 18 players who featured for Scotland over the course of the Six Nations for this game, including captain Jonny Gray who will make his 50th appearance for Glasgow in the second row. Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour return to the back three along with Sean Lamont while Mark Bennett is the only survivor in the backs from the win over Leinster last weekend and he is joined in the centre by Alex Dunbar. Finn Russell has recovered from concussion to start at fly-half while Henry Pyrgos starts at scrum-half. Up front Gordon Reid, Fraser Brown and Sila Puafisi form an unchanged front row while Leone Nakarawa joins Gray in the second row. The back row is completely changed however with Rob Harley and Josh Strauss returning from international duty to combine with Chris Fusaro, who has recovered from concussion, to form an all-international back row.

There are five changes for Les Kiss and Ulster as Paddy Jackson makes his 100th appearance for the province at fly-half. In the backs Stuart Olding shifts from centre to full-back with Craig Gilroy going onto the wing in place of Jacob Stockdale. Stuart McCloskey returns from international duty to start at inside centre. Up front Callum Black replaces Kyle McCall at loosehead prop while Alan O’Connor returns from injury to start in the second row in place of Pete Browne. There is also a long awaited return for Iain Henderson who comes into the side at blindside flanker ahead of Robbie Diack.

 

Glasgow Warriors vs. Ulster Rugby

Friday 25th March, 19:35

Scotstoun Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 18

 

Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland, BBC Alba and TG4

 

GLASGOW WARRIORS

15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Alex Dunbar, 11. Sean Lamont, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Henry Pyrgos; 1. Gordon Reid, 2. Fraser Brown, 3. Sila Puafisi, 4. Jonny Gray (capt.), 5. Leone Nakarawa, 6. Rob Harley, 7. Chris Fusaro, 8. Josh Strauss.

Replacements: 16. James Malcolm, 17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18. Zander Fagerson, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. Ryan Wilson, 21. Grayson Hart, 22. Duncan Weir, 23. Taqele Naiyaravoro.

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Stuart Olding, 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Rory Scholes, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Callum Black, 2. Rob Herring (capt.), 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Alan O’Connor, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Nick Williams.

Replacements: 16. John Andrew, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Andy Warwick, 19. Robbie Diack, 20. Sean Reidy, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Sam Windsor, 23. Darren Cave.

 

Referee: John Lacey (IRFU, 51st competition game)

Assistant Referees: Graeme Wells, Cammy Rudkin (both SRU)

Citing Commissioner: John Montgomery (SRU)

TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)