Preview: Ulster v Ospreys

Date published: September 30 2016

Ireland captain Rory Best will make his first start of the season for Ulster when Ospreys visit Kingspan Stadium on Saturday.

There are eight changes to the side who started last week’s 17-22 win over Glasgow in Scotstoun, as Director of Rugby Les Kiss continues to manage his playing resources during what is a hectic fixture schedule.

Best, who played 35 minutes against Glasgow last Friday, will be joined in the front row by the returning Kyle McCall and Rodney Ah You, who has impressed at tight-head in the opening rounds.

Franco van der Merwe will captain the side in the absence of Rob Herring and Andrew Trimble, who will sit out this week due to squad management and recovery from a foot injury respectively. Van der Merwe will be joined in the second row by Alan O’Connor for the second week in succession.

The back row trio of Iain Henderson, Sean Reidy and Roger Wilson, which functioned so effectively in last week’s victory in Glasgow, are retained.

Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson will make up an experienced halfback partnership, with no less than 282 caps for the Province between them.

Charles Piutau has reverted to full-back and will be joined in the back three by Louis Ludik on the left wing and Craig Gilroy, who missed out last week through injury, on the right.

Jared Payne will start the game at number 13 alongside Darren Cave, who shifts across to inside centre.

Tommy Bowe is in line to make his first appearance in an Ulster jersey in almost five months as he is named among the replacements alongside fellow backs Ruan Pienaar and Brett Herron.

John Andrew, Callum Black, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell and Robbie Diack will provide the forwards cover from the bench.

Meanwhile, Nicky Smith will become the latest of the current crop of Ospreys to reach 50 appearances for the region when he runs out in this fixture.

Smith joins Sam Parry and Dmitri Arhip in the visitors’ front row while Alun Wyn Jones leads the side from the second row where he starts alongside Bradley Davis.

Dan Baker starts at number eight while Justin Tipuric and James King are the starting flankers.

In the back-line, Dan Evans lines up at full-back alongside his wingers Jeff Hassler and Eli Walker in an exciting back three.

Ben John and Josh Matavesi form a solid midfield combination and Wales internationals Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb are the halfbacks.

Form: Ulster have lost just one of their last nine PRO12 matches: 18-30 to Leinster at the RDS Arena in last season’s semi-final. This is Ulster’s best start to a new campaign since they set the Championship record of winning their opening 11 contests in season 2012/13. Ospreys had recorded maximum league points after three rounds but were brought back down to earth with a 19-31 loss to Leinster on Friday. Ospreys only victory in their last five encounters with Irish provinces was 32-11 over Connacht in Galway in Round 2. Things could not be more even in previous encounters between the two sides with each attaining 13 victories, however of late Ulster’s only loss to Ospreys in their last six meetings was 20-31 at Liberty Stadium in December 2014. Ospreys have won just once at Kingspan Stadium since 2010: 16-12 in February 2013.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger WIlson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 A O’Connor, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rory Best, 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Tommy Bowe

Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ben John, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Dan Baker, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James King, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Olly Cracknell, 21 Tyler Ardron, 22 Tom Habberfield, 23 Sam Davies

Date: Saturday, October 1
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (WRU), Paul Haycock (IRFU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)