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Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

03rd January 2013 11:18

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SKY_MOBILE Ruan Pienaar - Ulster Heineken Cup

Return: Ruan Pienaar

Ulster boss Mark Anscombe has made eight changes for tomorrow night's top-of-the-table clash against the Scarlets at Ravenhill.

In the back-line, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar all return to the starting XV after missing the trip to Limerick.

Rob Herring and Adam Macklin are retained in the front row, while Tom Court starts at loose head. Dan Tuohy makes his first start after recovering from a torn calf muscle and joins Lewis Stevenson in the second-row. Chris Henry will captain Ulster and starts at openside, with Robbie Diack at blindside and Nick Williams at Number 8.

Callum Black drops to the bench, as does Neil McComb and Roger Wilson. Paddy Wallace and John Afoa are also named as replacements alongside Niall Annett, Michael Heaney and Ricky Andrew.

Meanwhile, Scarlets flanker Rob McCusker returns to the starting line-up after his red card as one of nine changes against Ulster.

After a physical and bruising few weeks over the festive period with a the European double-header and two big away Welsh derbies in just five days, the Scarlets are without 11 players from their squad; 10 through injury and one suspension (Gareth Owen, centre).

Long-term injured backs Rhys Priestland (achilles) and Jordan Williams (shoulder) are both progressing well; with Wales fly-half Priestland now out of plaster and into an air-cast boot and joining the Scarlets for his rehab programme next week.

In the forwards the West Wales side are missing seven players; back row Aaron Shingler (groin), second row George Earle (knee), hooker Ken Owens (ribs), second row Joe Snyman (groin), prop Samson Lee (shoulder) and no8 Kieran Murphy (back).

Backs not available are Rhys Jones (groin); Liam Williams (concussion) and Gareth Owen (three week suspension).

Back row international Rob McCusker returns to the starting line-up after a disciplinary hearing this week upheld that the red card issued to him at the Boxing Day Ospreys derby was sufficient.

Form: Ulster's perfect start to the RaboDirect PRO12 season ended at the 12th hurdle in Munster on Saturday. Ulster's only home defeat in the competition since October 2011 was 8-16 to Leinster on 20 April. Ulster are going for a sixth straight win over a Welsh region. Scarlets only victory in their last five matches in all competitions was 9-6 at Cardiff Blues on 21 December. The only side who have a better away record than Scarlets in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season are Ulster themselves. Ulster have won four of their last five encounters with Scarlets, whilst the Welshmen have not triumphed at Ravenhill since 5 September 2008.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Adam D'Arcy, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry (c), 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Louis Stevenson, 3 Adam Macklin, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Callum Black, 18 John Afoa, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Paddy Wallace, 23 Ricky Andrew.

Scarlets: 15 Dan Newton, 14 George North, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Jonathan Davies (c), 11 Kristian Phillips, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Johnathan Edwards, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Richard Kelly, 4 Sione Timani, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Deacon Manu, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Craig Price, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 Adam Warren.

Date: Friday, January 4
Kick-off: 19:05
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: Leighton Hodges
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Brian Macneice (Ireland)
Television match official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)

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Pool 4
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PosTeamPPts
1Clermont Auvergne624
2Harlequins616
3Scarlets611
4Racing Metro Paris67