Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

Date published: December 1 2011

Ulster have recalled several of their Ireland internationals for their PRO12 clash with an under-strength Scarlets side at Ravenhill.

Ulster have recalled several of their Ireland internationals for their PRO12 clash with an under-strength Scarlets side at Ravenhill on Friday.

Brian McLaughlin has made five changes in total to his starting team, including four in the pack. Stephen Ferris, Rory Best, Craig Gilroy and Chris Henry are starting, having been rested for last weekend's defeat at Glasgow Warriors.

The Ulster coach can also call on prop John Afoa who has returned from New Zealand. The All Black replaces Declan Fitzpatrick who has been ruled out after suffering a neck injury during a scrum last week against Glasgow.

Best's inclusion at hooker sees Andi Kyriacou drop out of the matchday squad, as Nigel Brady retains his bench place. Ferris and Henry join Pedrie Wannenburg an experienced back-row.

Craig Gilroy is named on the left wing in place of Scottish international Simon Danielli, who misses out on a squad place. The backs remain otherwise unchanged but Ruan Pienaar is named on the bench, despite not being named in the preliminary squad. The scrumhalf has been ruled out since picking up a hamstring injury against the Scarlets at the end of October.

Meanwhile, the Scarlets will look to add to their unbeaten run in all competitions which now stands at eight – a regional rugby record for the squad.

The Scarlets were the biggest movers in the league last weekend following their 22-12 win over Welsh rivals the Dragons and now sit in sixth. Ulster have won one of their last six RaboDirect Pro 12 encounters and at home will be looking to improve on their league form.

The Scarlets are without eight of their key international players who are committed to the Wales camp for an international friendly against Australia on Saturday. But they took the spoils 24-17 in the first round battle this season against Ulster at home at Parc y Scarlets at the end of October with their last victory at Ravenhill in September 2008, winning 16-9.

With a top-billing European fixture next weekend when the Scarlets take on Munster in the Heineken Cup at Parc y Scarlets, Head Coach Nigel Davies said that this game was an opportunity for a number of the Scarlets squad to get their hands on the shirt for next week.

“We know that Ulster will be at full strength and some may say that without our internationals it's more of a challenge – but all our players are keen to wear the shirt at the moment. There's a huge game against Munster on the horizon, so they'll want to take their opportunities in a bid to get selected for such a big fixture for the club,” he said.

“We have a few new Scarlets in our side on Friday night, but we're also strong on experience and ability and we go to Ulster on the back of a good run and with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and forward momentum. It is a very competitive environment at Parc y Scarlets the moment and that creates a positive drive and ambition throughout the squad.

“Our World Cup players add spice and x-factor and raise the bar in terms of performance and training – but a lot of the hard work has been done week-in, week-out by the wider group of Scarlets that we have invested in and developed and credit should go to them. We have a lot of young players coming through who have learnt on their feet and starting making big in-roads for us.

“We've got a heavy and intense period of rugby ahead of us, with the back-to-backs in Europe then a derby against the Ospreys on Boxing Day, so we are managing our squad too for the period ahead.”

The teams:

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

Scarlets: 15 Daniel Evans, 14 Viliami Iongi, 13 Nick Reynolds, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Stephen Jones (capt), 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Kieran Murphy, 7 Rob McCusker, 6 Mat Gilbert, 5 Adam Powell, 4 Lou Reed, 3 Deacon Manu, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Iestyn Thomas, 18 Simon Gardiner, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Johnathan Edwards, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Daniel Newton, 23 Iolo Evans.

Date: Friday, December 2
Kick-off: 19:05
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Dudley Phillips (Ireland), Eanna O'Dowd (Ireland)
Television match official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Assessor: Brian Stirling (Ireland)