Ulster Head Coach, Mark Anscombe, has made eight changes to the team that lost to Munster at Thomond Park last Saturday for tomorrow night’s top-of-the-table clash against Llanelli Scarlets at Ravenhill (kick off 19:05).
In the back-line, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar all return to the starting XV after missing the trip to Limerick.
Rob Herring and Adam Macklin are retained in the front row, while Tom Court starts at loose head. Dan Tuohy makes his first start after recovering from a torn calf muscle and joins Lewis Stevenson in the second-row. Chris Henry will captain Ulster and starts at openside, with Robbie Diack at blindside and Nick Williams at Number 8.
Callum Black drops to the bench, as does Neil McComb and Roger Wilson. Paddy Wallace and John Afoa are also named as replacements alongside Niall Annett, Michael Heaney and Ricky Andrew.
The game, which is sold out, will see RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Ulster take on the team immediately below them in the table, Llanelli Scarlets. Ulster won the previous encounter between the two sides 19 points to 12 at Parc y Scarlets last month.
A limited number of promenade tickets are still available for the Heineken Cup game against Glasgow at Ravenhill next Friday night and are available at SS Moore’s only.
Ulster XV & replacements to face Llanelli Scarlets, RaboDirect PRO12, Ravenhill, Friday 4th January 2013 Kick Off 19:05:
(15-9): A D’Arcy, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar;
(1-8): T Court, R Herring, A Macklin, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams;
Replacements (16-23): N Annett, C Black, J Afoa, N McComb, R Wilson, M Heaney, P Wallace, R Andrew
Thrilling top table clash for Scarlets in Ireland for fourth away fixture in a row
The Scarlets will travel to Ulster on Friday night looking to take points away from the league leaders as the first and second placed teams in the RaboDirect PRO12 go head-to-head.
At the same fixture earlier in the season with both teams in the same position, league leaders Ulster just got the upper hand with a narrow 19-12 victory over the Scarlets at home in West Wales on December 2nd 2012.
Despite their loss to Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday, as the New Year begins, Ulster remain clear at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table with a 9 point lead over second placed Scarlets, who they welcome to Ravenhill on Friday night (kick off 7.05pm).
In another tight league contest, there are just three points separating the Scarlets from their rivals below them positioned third to sixth – so vital points are on offer this weekend before the teams break for the final rounds of pool stages in Europe.
The Scarlets know they have a big challenge to break down Ulster’s strong home record with the Ulstermen’s only home defeat in the competition since October 2011 being 8-16 to Leinster on 20 April. The West Wales side last won at Ravenhill in September 2008 with Ulster winning four of the last five encounters against the Scarlets.
However the Scarlets form away from home has been a strength this season, and it’s Ulster who are the only side that have an away record that outweighs the Scarlets in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season.
After a physical and bruising few weeks over the festive period with a the European double-header and two big away Welsh derbies in just five days, the Scarlets are without 12 players from their squad; 11 through injury and one suspension (Gareth Owen, centre).
Long-term injured backs Rhys Priestland (Achilles) and Jordan Williams (shoulder) are both progressing well; with Wales fly-half Priestland now out of plaster and into an air-cast boot and joining the Scarlets for his rehab programme next week.
In the forwards the West Wales side are missing seven players; back row Aaron Shingler (groin), second row George Earle (knee), hooker Matthew Rees (neck), hooker Ken Owens (ribs), second row Joe Snyman (groin), prop Samson Lee (shoulder) and no8 Kieran Murphy (back).
Backs not available are Rhys Jones (groin); Liam Williams (concussion) and Gareth Owen (three week suspension).
Back row international Rob McCusker returns to the starting line-up after a disciplinary hearing this week upheld that the red card issued to him at the Boxing Day Ospreys derby was sufficient.
Scarlets Head Coach Simon Easterby said: “It’s been a challenging and intense period of rugby for us December; it’s been a pretty tough period in terms of the fixtures and how many away games we’ve had and January will be equally challenging with games away in Ulster, Leinster and then Clermont Auvergne at home in the Heineken Cup.
“It hasn’t been a great spell for us, however we’re also mindful of what we’ve been up against. We’re in a very tough Heineken Cup group and that we’ve had a number of away games against very good opposition including two big Welsh derbies.
“We’ve had a few additional days over the New Year without a game to be able to focus and reflect in some more depth – looking back on our European performances and our two Welsh derbies. That’s been important given the scale and significance of what’s ahead of us now."
Easterby said the Scarlets would not be too concerned about what was happening above or below them in the league – and that the focus was firmly on the their own campaign and performance.
“Our control is where we can put ourselves in the league; we know it’s going to be a difficult competition to stay in the top four but we need to get things right in our game this weekend to start with and the boys have been very positive in training this week.
“There’s a strong team ethic in our squad and with the quality and experience we have in our ranks, regardless of our injury list, there’s plenty of intent to put things right and it’s a huge opportunity to start that this weekend.
“Ulster have an impressive record at home and they are bringing back their top players in front of a home crowd after resting a big group last weekend. They’re in a really good place and are a difficult team to play against – but we showed in early December that we can create decent opportunities against them; this time we need to take advantage of that.”
Wales international centre Jon Davies who captains the Scarlets side for a fifth consecutive time on Friday night said that the Scarlets would need get a sharp start at Ravenhill.
He said: “We’ve given teams easy points early on in games against opposition that can close games out.
“Ulster have a high intensity game plan, they will come at us with a solid game plan and we’ll need to start better, not put pressure on ourselves, be smarter and play in the right areas. There’s a lot in our game at the moment and we are playing well in patches but we have to find that for the full 80 minutes.”
Scarlets team v Ulster Friday 4th January 2013 kick-off 7.05pm Ravenhill; 15 Dan Newton 14 George North, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Jonathan Davies (capt), 11 Kristian Phillips, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 1 Phil John, 2 Emyr Phillips, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 4 Sione Timani, 5 Richard Kelly, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 8 Rob McCusker
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Craig Price, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Scott Williams 23 Adam Warren