Dan McFarland names an unchanged side as Ulster welcome Scarlets to the Kingspan in the second of the back-to-back matches in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Injuries have taken they’re toll on Scarlets with James Davies and Kieron Fonotia being ruled out, however they do welcome back Jake Ball into the second row which will give them a boost at the lineout.

Rory Best, Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore make up the front row while Kieran Treadwell partners Iain Henderson in the second row. Sean Reidy was a doubt but he starts alongside Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee in the back row.

John Cooney and Billy Burns are the half backs inside Stuart McCloskey and Will Addison who start in the centre positions. The back three is made up of Jacob Stockdale, Henry Speight and Louis Ludik.

Last week was a perfect blueprint as to how to defeat 2016 PRO12 Champions. Ulster’s forwards were on top for the whole match and while there were a few handling errors, Ulster created plenty of chances enabling a bonus point win.

The defence was rugged and the line speed put Scarlets under pressure forcing an unprecedented number of handling errors. I’m sure Scarlets will roll up to Kingspan tomorrow with the intention of ruining Ulster’s party, as Northampton did in 2012, but the players and Dan McFarland have been saying the right things in the media and I’m confident that they can get the job done.

Ulster ended their six year win drought in Llanelli on Friday night while the travelling side have not won in Belfast since February 2016. Like Ulster, they’ve a tough Christmas coming up with a trip to Swansea before hosting Cardiff a week later, however despite a poor performance on Friday night, they still showed glimpses of what the can do. I expect them to throw caution into the wind and attack Ulster from the off.

With Racing 92 recording a bonus point win over Leicester Tigers on Sunday, it looks likely that the Parisians will top the group comfortably leaving Ulster and Tigers in a tussle for second place. As it stands Ulster lead Tigers by three points but with a trip to Welford Road at the end of January, we could see a shootout for second place.

There’s still work to be done if we’re to qualify for the second round for the first time since the 2014/15 season and here’s how the second round stands after the first three matches.

Rank Team Points Difference Tries for
1 Saracens 14 55 12
2 Racing 92 14 43 12
3 Toulouse 12 11 8
4 Munster 11 39 9
5 Edinburgh 11 38 10
6 Leinster 10 55 13
7 Glasgow 10 27 9
8 Ulster 9 -17 9
9 Gloucester 8 -1 7
10 Newcastle 8 -14 5

As it stands, Ulster creep into the next round and are in the favourable position of having two home matches remaining. Leinster have home games against Bath and Toulouse before a trip to Wasps in the final game-week so I would expect them to pip Toulouse to the top spot.

Munster and Gloucester are jostling it out for the second spot in pool 2 and with both facing off in the final match, it’s not looking likely that two teams will get out of this group.

Saracens are walking away with pool 3 and I firmly expect them to finish in that position. Glasgow have two home matches against Lyon and Cardiff and I expect them to win both with a bonus point heading into the final match at Allianz Park.

The last pool is similar to pool 2. Edinburgh sit at the top with 11 points with Newcastle in second with 8 points. Surprisingly the French heavyweights Montpellier and Toulon, who were expected to both qualify, sit third and fourth respectively with six points. It looks highly unlikely that two sides will qualify from this pool.

The FRU predicts: Ulster are in a great position to qualify and I expect them to pick up where they left off last week. Scarlets won’t be as poor as they were on Friday therefore I don’t think Ulster will secure the bonus point. Ulster by five points.

Ulster Scarlets
Louis Ludik 15 Johnny McNicholl
Henry Speight 14 Tom Prydie
Will Addison 13 Jonathan Davies
Stuart McCloskey 12 Hadleigh Parkes
Jacob Stockdale 11 Steff Evans
Billy Burns 10 Rhys Patchell
John Cooney 9 Gareth Davies
Eric O’Sullivan 1 Wyn Jones
Rory Best 2 Ken Owens
Marty Moore 3 Samson Lee
Iain Henderson 4 Jake Ball
Kieran Treadwell 5 David Bulbring
Sean Reidy 6 Lewis Rawlins
Jordi Murphy 7 Will Boyde
Marcell Coetzee 8 Uzair Cassiem
Rob Herring 16 Ryan Elias
Kyle McCall 17 Phil Price
Tom O’Toole 18 Werner Kruger
Matthew Rea 19 Tom Price
Nick Timoney 20 Josh Helps
Dave Shanahan 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
Johnny McPhillips 22 Dan Jones
Darren Cave 23 Paul Asquith

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