Preview: Ulster v Cardiff Blues

Date published: October 25 2013

Ulster boss Mark Anscombe has made two personnel changes and one positional switch to the team that beat Montpellier.

Ulster boss Mark Anscombe has made two personnel changes and one positional switch to the team that beat Montpellier.

Jared Payne moves from full-back to outside centre, with Darren Cave selected on the bench. Stuart Olding starts his first game for Ulster at 15.

Up front, Callum Black starts at loosehead with Tom Court, who was named in Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad this week, moving to the bench.

A late change sees All Black tighthead prop, John Afoa, startl in place of Declan Fitzpatrick who has failed a late fitness test. Ricky Lutton comes in on the bench as a front-row replacement.

Mike McComish, man-of-the-match for the Ulster Ravens against Jersey last Friday night, is on the bench in place of Iain Henderson who will be out for up to six weeks with a toe injury.

“When the team was read out and I wasn't playing at fly-half or centre, I thought that I was going to be on the bench again, but I was really pleased when I learned that I would be starting at full-back,” said Olding.

“It is a position that I really enjoy playing in. I was fullback for Ireland Under 20s in the Six Nations and the Junior World Championship so I am very confident there and I am looking forward to tomorrow night's game.”

Meanwhile, Richard Smith is handed his first start of the RaboDirect Pro12 season for Cardiff Blues as they travel to face Ulster.

Smith is named on the wing, replacing the injured Alex Cuthbert, as Blues make a total of two changes to the side that defeated European champions Toulon last weekend.

The other changes to the starting line-up sees Dafydd Hewitt comes in at centre for Owen Williams, with Cory Allen moving to outside centre.

The pack remains the same and will again be captained by prop Gethin Jenkins in the front row. Taufa'ao Filise and Chris Czekaj return among the replacements.

Director of Rugby Phil Davies has called on his Blues to build on the region's Heineken Cup exploits, but acknowledged that Ulster will also be full of confidence after defeating Montpellier last week.

“We know what it is like to try and go to Montpellier and get a result so you have got to give them huge credit for that. It was a great performance by Ulster,” said Davies.

“They are an outstanding team with some excellent players. They have got Johannn Muller who is a great catalyst for them with Nick Williams. You have John Afoa in the scrum with Rory Best so their platform is really good.

“You then have the half backs with Ruan Pienaar who navigates them around the field and Paddy Jackson is playing well. They have good finishing power on the wings with Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe. They are a very good team all-round.

“Ravenhill has been redeveloped and it will be a great atmosphere and a sell-out. It will be a great occasion and hopefully a great game.”

Form: Ulster are on an impressive run of five successive victories in all competitions. The Ulstermen's only reversal at Ravenhill Stadium since February came by the narrowest of Margins, 13-12, to RaboDirect PRO12 table topping Glasgow in round 2. Ulster have won four of their last five contests with Welsh regions, whilst the only Welsh side to have won at Ravenhill in the last four seasons has been Ospreys. Cardiff Blues have won two of their last three fixtures in all competitions, but away from home have not been successful since they visited Murrayfield and beat Edinburgh 17-16 in February. The Blues have won just one of their last five encounters with Irish provinces: 21-10 over Connacht at The Arms Park in Round 2. Cardiff Blues only win in their last six fixtures with Ulster was 21-14 at the Arms Park on 17th February 2012, whilst they have not been victorious at Ravenhill since April 2010.

Ulster: 15 Stuart Olding, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Tom Court, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Michael Allen

Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Richard Smith, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Sam Warburton, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Marc Breeze, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Taufa'ao Filise, 19 Lou Reed, 20 Rory Watts-Jones, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Chris Czekaj

Date: Friday, 25 October
Venue: Ravenhill Stadium, Belfast
Kick-off: 19.05pm BST (18:05 GMT)
Referee: Giuseppe Vivarin (FIR)
Assistant Referees: Gary Conway, Eanna O'Dowd (both IRFU)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)