Preview: Ulster v Edinburgh

Date published: April 28 2012

Ulster will hope 13 years of hurt finally ends on Saturday as they look to overcome Edinburgh and thus return to a Heineken Cup Final.

Ulster will be hoping that 13 years of hurt will finally come to an end as they look to overcome Edinburgh and thus return to a Heineken Cup Final stage.

It has been well over a decade since the Northern Irish side beat Colomiers at Lansdowne Road in a game that saw over 30,000 fans travel over the border. David Humphreys lifted the coveted trophy on that day after 80 minutes that saw 18 of their 21 points scored by the reliable Simon Mason.

Fast-forward to today and it won't be a full-back but a scrum-half who Ulster will hope kicks their points, with Ruan Pienaar the man with the tee. Pienaar has been superb for the Ravenhill outfit all season at either nine or ten and there is no doubt Edinburgh have been making their notes.

That man with the scribbles on pieces of paper is former Connacht coach Michael Bradley, who is confident of his wealth of knowledge of Ulster.

“Munster made three mistakes which were 51 to 53 metres from their line, and that was 9 points, so we have got to be careful about that,” he told the Belfast Telegraph of Pienaar. “But we don't fear anyone now. We will put together a game plan that can and will work if we execute it.”

Let us be clear that while Edinburgh go into this game as underdogs, they have not got to this stage without impressive performances, as their victory over Toulouse in the last round proved. Before that they defeated London Irish, Racing-Metro and Cardiff Blues in their Pool, winning five out of six. That is why many, both in and outside of Ulster, have been quick to highlight that Edinburgh are a different proposition in Europe than the RaboDirect PRO12.

They have a solid pack that is bulging in the back-row department where David Denton, Ross Rennie and Netani Talei reside, which throws up for a mouth-watering clash with Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon and Pedrie Wannenburg. One cannot underplay just how pivotal those personal battles could be in the context of events at the Aviva Stadium.

It is of little surprise that coach Bradley has selected that same back-three and indeed the identical starting XV that toppled Toulouse in their memorable Heineken Cup quarter-final.

He rested a number of players for last week's trip to Cardiff Blues and has reverted to a refreshed version of the side that made history in front of 38,000 at Murrayfield on April 7.

Lock Steven Turnbull's bench replacement of Stuart McInally is the only change to their 23.

Meanwhile, Ulster will be without key players John Afoa (suspension) and Chris Henry (injury), with youngster Paddy Jackson starting at number ten ahead of Ian Humphreys.

Henry has been ruled out after failing to recover from an ankle sprain picked up in the PRO12 match against Leinster last weekend. Other injury concerns Paddy Wallace, Wannenburg and Paul Marshall have all been passed fit, with the latter on the bench.

“Edinburgh are one of the form teams in Europe. They beat Toulouse, one of the kingpins of the competition, and you have to respect them for that,” said coach Brian McLaughlin.

“They have a great spine; their pack is full of internationals and they have an excellent back row. They have international half backs who are very good at controlling the game so it will be a big challenge for us. They are not going to fear coming to the Aviva.”

McLaughlin meanwhile is confident that Jackson will rise to the occasion as well in Dublin.

“Paddy has come in over the last few weeks and done exceptionally well. His performances have warranted selection. It's a very tough call on Ian who has been exceptional for us over the past couple of seasons, but we felt Paddy deserved a shot,” he added.

Ones to watch:

For Ulster: Much rests on the showing of Paddy Jackson. If he makes his first touch-finder and enjoys early front-foot ball then Ulster could be in for a strong evening from their number ten. However, if things don't start well then the 'hosts' passage to the final could become all the more tricky. Jackson's selection follows a strong showing last week but if he struggles to back that up then comfort is found in Paul Marshall and Ian Humphreys on the bench.

For Edinburgh: One player who has quietly and consistently gone about his business this season has been number eight Netani Talei. Man-of-the-match against Toulouse in their quarter-final success at Murrayfield, Talei has shown time and time again that he is a force to be reckoned with. Anyone who can keep Scotland international number eight David Denton on the blindside flank must be pretty good. Elsewhere in the Edinburgh ranks, the performance of half-back duo Greig Laidlaw and Mike Blair is going to be critical as semi-finals need kickers in top form while Blair will need to knock Ruan Pienaar off his game.

Head-to-head: A titanic battle comes in the front-row where the absence of John Afoa could prove costly. Declan Fitzpatrick will subsequently come in at tighthead will go toe-to-toe with Scotland's Allan Jacobsen. In another match-up this week, expect fireworks between the aforementioned Denton and Ulster's quarter-final man-of-the-match, Stephen Ferris.

Prediction: Edinburgh are a different side in this competition, but Ulster to nick it by 5!

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Stephen Ferris, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Adam D'Arcy.

Edinburgh: 15 Tom Brown, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Greig Laidlaw (capt), 9 Mike Blair, 8 Netani Talei, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 David Denton, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Sean Cox, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Kelly, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Jack Gilding, 19 Steven Turnbull, 20 Roddy Grant, 21 Chris Leck, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Jim Thompson.

Date: Saturday, April 28
Kick-off: 17:45 BST
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garces (France), Pascal Gauzere (France)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)