Both the Scarlets and Ulster welcome back a number of their World Cup heroes for their RaboDirect PRO12 clash at Parc y Scarlets.
Both the Scarlets and Ulster welcome back a number of their World Cup heroes for their RaboDirect PRO12 clash at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
After a two-week break for the final stages of the RWC, Ulster, who are one place above the Scarlets in the table, will be eyeing a landmark 100th victory in the competition this weekend, but face an energised Scarlets side on home soil and a team boosted by three wins in a row.
The two teams are tight competitors in the league and Saturday's fixture is expected to be a very close encounter once again – the Scarlets have narrowly lost by just two points in their last two fixtures against the Ulstermen in 2010/2011.
Scarlets are keeping their pledge to build on strong home form with their only loss in their last five games a 10-15 to Leinster on September 24.
Scarlets and Ulster were the two teams that were neck-and-neck competitors last season in the battle for a play -off place, and Head of Rugby at the Scarlets, Nigel Davies says the game is a crucial one in his team's ambitions.
“This is a big game for us and we know how close we run with Ulster both in performance and how closely we'll compete in getting a top four spot. The results against them will have an important bearing later on the four positions in the league and we're looking forward to Saturday's game,” he said.
If the Scarlets win against Ulster they will have secured the same points as they had from corresponding fixtures last season – a bonus point win and they'll be ahead a point ahead of the same fixtures last season.
“We're really hoping for a great home support on Saturday – the away supporters at Cardiff last weekend were a huge boost to the team,” added Davies.
“Credit to the some of our less experienced players who've worked hard in recent weeks and taken their opportunities well to get that winning momentum back and to get that support from the crowds makes a real difference to them.
“The boys have put in a lot of hard work this week and we're focused on putting right that last game out in Ravenhill at the end of last season, which was a bitterly disappointing outcome.”
The Scarlets welcome back three of Wales' World Cup squad to their ranks this weekend, with international hooker Ken Owens getting a start and scrum-half Tavis Knoyle and centre Scott Williams on the bench.
“It's been very positive to see how eager they've been to come back to the Scarlets group. To be able to feature players like Ken Owens, Tavis Knoyle and Scott Williams into our overall line-up this Saturday is a real boost,” said Davies.
“They're keen to get onto the field and haven't had as much game time as some of the others and are at the peak of their form, fitness and preparations so are energised and ready to get going in a Scarlets shirt again.
“The other positive factor is that we are starting to build some strength in depth now in our squad and the exposure of some of the exciting new talent we have in our group, many of whom keep their starting places this Saturday, is a sign that competition is building at the Scarlets now.”
Meanwhile, six of Ulster's World Cup players have gone straight into the starting XV this weekend with Head Coach Brian McLaughlin making a total of seven personnel changes and two positional switches.
Johann Muller returns to captain the side from the second row, where he is resumes his partnership with Dan Tuohy.
Ireland prop Tom Court will join Andi Kyriacou and Declan Fitzpatrick in the front row. The back-row remains unchanged from the last match against Treviso, with Pedrie Wanneneburg and Mike McComish on the flanks and Chris Henry at number eight.
Paul Marshall makes way for returning Springbok Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half, with Ian Humphreys starting in the number 10 jersey and Paddy Wallace and Nevin Spence occupying the centre positions. Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy have been named on the wings, with Simon Danielli starting at full-back.
“We've had a very positive week with Johann at the helm as captain and we're looking to put in a positive performance on Saturday. When you add in Andrew, Simon, Paddy, Tom and Ruan, we are starting to take a bit more shape.
“The guys who have played up until now have done a great job and they will get plenty of opportunities as the season progresses, with so many games on the horizon.
“We had to make a few tough decisions in terms of selection. Leaving Darren Cave out of the side was very difficult considering the form he was in. Paddy (Wallace) and Nevin (Spence) struck up a good relationship last season and it's a tried and tested combination. We know with Darren on the bench, it will give us a bit of quality there and it gives us great options.
“We have a long run of games no and it's important that we get off on the right foot against Scarlets. We will be looking for a good performance as well as a good result.”
Form: Scarlets have won their last three matches in all competitions, whilst their only loss in their last five games at Parc y Scarlets was 10-15 to Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12 on 24 September. Scarlets are winless in their last ten encounters with Irish provinces. Ulster have been marooned on 99 wins in this competition since beating Cardiff Blues in round three. The Ulstermen have lost their last two encounters with Welsh opponents. Ulster achieved the double over Scarlets last season for the first time in the history of this competition.
Scarlets: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Sean Lamont, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Rhodri Williams, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Rob McCusker (capt), 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dominic Day, 3 Rhys Thomas, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rhodri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Phil John, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Richie Pugh, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Daniel Newton, 23 Scott Williams.
Ulster: 15 Simon Danielli, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Nevin Spence, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Chris Henry, 7 Mike McComish, 6 Pedrie Wannenburg, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Andi Kyriacou, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Adam D'Arcy.
Date: Saturday, October 29
Venue: Parc y Scarlets
Referee: Alan Falzone (Italy)
Assistant referees: Gwyn Morris (Wales), Rhys Thomas (Wales)