Preview: Ulster v Munster

Date published: December 31 2015

Andrew Trimble will become the first player to make 200 appearances for Ulster when he lines up against Munster at a sold-out Kingspan Stadium on Saturday.

The Ireland winger made his provincial debut back in September 2005, starting in a 22-25 win over Cardiff at the Arms Park, and has gone on to score 67 tries in his 199 games to date.

Trimble is part of an unchanged backline from the one that helped Ulster to secure a 3-10 away success over Connacht last weekend, their fourth successive win.

Louis Ludik and Rory Scholes continue in the back three for this important PRO12 clash, with Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall named in midfield and Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar included in the half back positions.

Rory Best will return to captain the side from hooker, in one of four changes up front. Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, has also recalled loosehead prop Kyle McCall to the front row alongside Wiehahn Herbst, who remains at tighthead.

Lewis Stevenson has earned a start in the second row, where he is partnered by Franco van der Merwe.

Chris Henry has overcome a slight shoulder injury and is selected at openside flanker, with Robbie Diack and Nick Williams retaining their places in the other back row spots.

Rob Herring, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Alan O'Connor and Roger Wilson are back up for the forwards, while Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys and Sammy Arnold again provide backline cover.

Meanwhile, after making his first appearance of the season last week off the bench against Leinster, flanker Tommy O'Donnell will start for Munster.

In all, Munster Head Coach Anthony Foley has made seven changes to his starting XV.

In the front row the injury forced withdrawal of James Cronin sees Dave Kilcoyne start at loose-head and as expected BJ Botha has overcome the flu in time to make a return to the starting line-up on the other side of the scrum.

Mark Chisholm is introduced in the second row and with O'Donnell returning to the back row Jack O'Donoghue makes the positional switch to blindside, with Captain CJ Stander continuing at eight.

There are three changes to the back-line as Ian Keatley joins Tomás O'Leary in the halfbacks while Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino and Ronan O'Mahony are both introduced out wide.

Academy player Rory Scannell, who signed a two-year senior contract earlier this week, continues his midfield partnership with Francis Saili while Andrew Conway remains at full-back. 

Replacement scrum-half Duncan Williams is in line to become the ninth player in the current squad to reach the milestone of 100 appearances for the province if sprung from the bench this weekend.

Form: Ulster have won their last four matches in all tournaments since their 3-8 reversal to Leinster at the RDS Arena at the end of November. The Ulstermen are unbeaten at Kingspan Stadium in the Guinness PRO12 since Leinster won their in May 2014. Munster have slipped to five straight defeats in all competitions, their worst run since season 2003/04. The Munstermen’s most recent away victory came at Edinburgh in the PRO12 on 7 November. Munster are unbeaten in their last three fixtures against Ulster including a 32-28 win at Thomond Park in Round 6 this season. The Munstermen have not achieved a league double over Ulster since season 2010/11 – the most recent time they have been victorious in Belfast. 

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Kyle McCall. 
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Alan O'Connor, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Sammy Arnold.

Munster: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Ronan O'Mahony, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Tomás O'Leary, 8 CJ Stander (c), 7 Tommy O'Donnell, 6 Jack O'Donoghue, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Dave Foley, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Mike Sherry, 1 Dave Kilcoyne. 
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 John Ryan, 18 Mario Sagario, 19 Billy Holland, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Denis Hurley.

Date: Saturday, January 2
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Gary Conway (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
TMO: Alan Rogan (Ireland)