It’s been a while since I’ve had to do an Ulster match preview as I’ve been concentrating on our Club and Schools output in recent seasons. However, our regular contributor for the PRO14 is unavailable this week so here goes.
This season has a feel of “marking time” to me as the pandemic continues to rage across Europe but Ulster, who sit in second place in Conference A, have made a reasonable fist of the first three games of the season with three wins. They have picked up 14 match points from a possible 15 to boast an impressive match point pick up of 93%, a record only bettered by Leinster.
Cardiff sit in second place in Conference B with two wins from their first three games after losing to Conference B leaders Munster last week. Their match point pick up sits at 60%.
From those stats you would expect Ulster to have the edge going into the game but they are missing their star player of the opening games Marcell Coetzee who sits this one out in Belfast while the team travel to Wales. Overall there are eight changes to the team compared to the one that started against the Dragons.
Michael Lowry, Adam McBurney, Kieran Treadwell and Nick Timony all step up from the bench with Matty Rea, Craig Gilroy, Stuart McCloskey and Billy Burns all joining the starting line up. Rea comes in for his 50th cap.
The bench sees Queen’s University’s exciting youngster Ethan McIlroy make a welcome return to the squad, as does Luke Marshall after an extended period off due to injury. .
As we cover Ulster players from school through to the senior side I like to keep an eye on that development pathway for the local players. It appears that this avenue for advancement appears to be shrinking every season with only 43% of the players selected transitioning through that particular route. Personally I’d like to see it at +60% and it may well increase in coming seasons as the purse strings tighten and player movement reduces if these viruses continue to do the rounds.
Cardiff have also made a few changes since their last outing. They have been without 6 senior players through the Six Nations but they are able to welcome back the experienced Will Boyde and Josh Turnbull for this one according to head coach John Mulvihill.
It is pleasing to welcome back Boyde and JT, they will give us a little more power and experience in the pack and it allows us to manage our squad a bit more.
Ulster will present another formidable challenge. They are undefeated and are a hugely physical team with good variety to their attack and they do not lose many players to the international game.
We will have to be at our best but we still have some confidence and momentum, we have prepared well and have a pretty good record at Rodney Parade.
If we can perform to our potential, cut out the mistakes and play for the 80 minutes, I am confident we can get the result.”Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill
There are a lot of challenges facing rugby at the moment and, it they are going to compete in a digital world, they need to produce a more entertaining product than the usual grunt and grind served up in the PRO14. Teams need to start and take a few more risks. Ulster have a comparatively exciting backline and I hope they have been given the latitude to play with a degree of freedom.
The FRU predicts: I’m looking forward to a lively, open, and high scoring game with Ulster having the edge in attack. McIlroy and Marshall to make telling impacts in the second half.
The match is being played at Rodney Parade, Newport due to Cardiff Arms having to be completely relaid due to damage caused during its use as a nightingale hospital.
Cardiff Blues v Ulster Match Details
Rodney Parade, Newport – KO 18:00 UK
Referee: Sam Grove-White (SRU, 9th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Adam Jones, Ben Breakspear (both WRU)
TMO: Ian Davies (WRU)
Live on Premier Sports 2, eir Sport 1, www.pro14.tv
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Aled Summerhill, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Hallam Amos; Jarrod Evans, Lewis Jones; Corey Domachowski, Kristian Dacey(C), Dmitri Arhip, James Ratti, Rory Thornton, Josh Turnbull, James Botham, Will Boyde. Replacements: Ethan Lewis, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Ben Murphy, Olly Robinson, Jamie Hill, James Tovey, Garyn Smith
Ulster: Michael Lowry, Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik, Billy Burns(C), John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Adam McBurney, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Matty Rea, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney. Replacements: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Ross Kane, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy.