Guinness PRO14 rugby is back and it’s the first of three meetings between Ulster and the Scarlets in four weeks.
A win for Ulster tomorrow night would see them consolidate second place in Conference B while Scarlets will be hoping to leapfrog Dan McFarland’s men.
Scarlets are deservedly favourites for the match particularly as no Ulster player has been released back from Irish duty ahead of the return of domestic rugby, forcing Dan to name a young squad with an average age of just 24.
Adam McBurney forms a young front row alongside fellow academy player Eric O’Sullivan and former Wasp, Marty Moore. Alan O’Connor resumes the captaincy alongside Kieran Treadwell in the second row while it’s the same back row that started against Benetton Rugby in Treviso three weeks ago. Marcell Coetzee starts on the blindside with Sean Reidy at openside and Nick Timoney at eight.
Dave Shanahan is benefitting from and first team action and makes his fourth start in a row alongside Billy Burns at half back. After six months out with a hamstring injury, Louis Ludik is welcomed back into the fold and starts at outside centre and is partnered by James Hume. Henry Speight starts on the left wing with Robert Baloucoune on the right and Michael Lowry at full back.
Both sides have been hampered by injuries and international call ups and I would have fancied Ulster’s chances more if they had the services of John Cooney, Will Addison and Stuart McCloskey. With none of them involved, it looks likely that they will play a part in Ireland’s final Autumn International against USA on Saturday.
Scarlets are without Hadleigh Parkes, Samson Lee, Gareth Davies, Rhys Patchell, Blade Thomson and James Davies due to either Wales duty of injury but still name a talented squad. The talented Ioan Nicholas scored a quality try in this match last year while Uzair Cassiem will hope to provide an impact from number eight.
Paul Asquith, who can play anywhere along the backline, starts at 12 and is a useful distributor. With Kieran Fonotia starting at outside centre, Louis Ludik has a difficult task of marking the former Osprey, especially having been injured for the past six months.
Ulster needed a last minute penalty from John Cooney to defeat Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium on the opening day of the season and while they remained tryless, Ulster created enough try scoring opportunities to put the game to bed. They’ll not get as many chances tomorrow night so Ulster need to keep the unforced errors to a minimum.
The major concern for me is turnovers. Scarlets are a well drilled side and although there’s no James Davies, Blade Thomson or Josh MacLeod tomorrow night, they’ll still target isolated ball carriers. Ulster’s carriers and support runners need to be on the same wave length as if they give this side a sniff at the breakdown, they’ve the potential to steal the ball.
The FRU predicts: I’d take a losing bonus point right now. However the Scarlets are a good side and will fancy a crack at the try bonus point. Scarlets by 12.
|Johnny McNicholl||15||Michael Lowry|
|Tom Prydie||14||Robert Baloucoune|
|Kieron Fonotia||13||Louis Ludik|
|Paul Asquith||12||James Hume|
|Ioan Nicholas||11||Henry Speight|
|Dan Jones||10||Billy Burns|
|Kieran Hardy||9||Dave Shanahan|
|Phil Price||1||Eric O’Sullivan|
|Marc Jones||2||Adam McBurney|
|Werner Kruger||3||Marty Moore|
|Steve Cummins||4||Alan O’Connor|
|David Bulbring||5||Kieran Treadwell|
|Ed Kennedy||6||Marcell Coetzee|
|Will Boyde||7||Sean Reidy|
|Uzair Cassiem||8||Nick Timoney|
|Daf Hughes||16||John Andrew|
|Dylan Evans||17||Andy Warwick|
|Simon Gardiner||18||Tom O’Toole|
|Lewis Rawlins||19||Ian Nagle|
|Dan Davis||20||Greg Jones|
|Sam Hidalgo-Clyne||21||Jonny Stewart|
|Clayton Blommetjies||22||Darren Cave|
|Morgan Williams||23||Angus Kernohan|