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Preview: Ulster v Ospreys

07th February 2013 09:11

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SKY_MOBILE Johann Muller - Ulster Heineken Cup

Returns: Johann Muller

Ireland U20 fly-half Stuart Olding will make his first Ulster start at a sold out Ravenhill on Friday against Ospreys.

The 19-year-old, a Ulster Academy graduate, has made three previous appearances, all as a replacement for the RaboDirect PRO12 leaders.

Johann Muller has returned from injury to captain the side, as has Luke Marshall, who will line out in the unfamiliar outside centre position.

Prop Andrew Warwick is in line to make his senior debut after being named on the bench.

Callum Black will start at loosehead so Tom Court moves to the other side of the scrum with Rob Herring as hooker. Lewis Stevenson retains his place at lock beside Muller, despite the return to action of Dan Tuohy who is on the bench. Mike McComish and Ali Birch get opportunities in the back-row alongside the dynamic Robbie Diack.

Olding will be surrounded by experience in the form of Ruan Pienaar (scrumhalf) and Paddy Wallace (inside centre). Outside Marshall at 13 will be Andrew Trimble and Michael Allen on the wings, with Ricky Andrew at full-back.

The bench features 21-year-old Andrew Warwick and duo Niall Annett and Ricky Lutton as the front-row cover. Tuohy and Neil McComb offer options, particularly in the line-out, if they are called, while Paul Marshall, Darren Cave and Chris Cochrane are the backline subs.

Meanwhile, the Ospreys hand Ben John, Morgan Allen and Tom Habberfield their first RaboDirect PRO12 starts while Arthur Ellis and Jamie Murphy will make their PRO12 debuts if they come off the bench

Sixteen players were unavailable for selection because of international duty with Wales senior, U20 and Sevens squads

"We've got a very big month ahead of us, with three very difficult away games in Ireland and a home game against Edinburgh in a couple of weeks," said head coach Steve Tandy.

"It's going to be a season defining period for us. We've bounced back well from the slow start we had to the season and when the PRO12 broke up at the start of last month we had managed to claw our way up into the top four. The challenge now is to stay there, and it won't be easy."

Form: Ulster's only defeat in the first 13 rounds of the RaboDirect PRO12 was 10-24 to Munster at Thomond Park on 29 December. The Ulstermen's only reversal at Ravenhill in the tournament since October 2011 was 8-16 to Leinster on 20 April 2012. Ulster have won their last six encounters with Welsh regions, whilst the Ospreys were the most recent Welsh team to win at the famous old venue, doing so on 13 April 2010. Ospreys have now gone four successive matches without a win in all competitions; however in the RaboDirect PRO12 the Welshmen have suffered just one reversal in their last ten encounters: 13-23 at Edinburgh on 23 November. Ospreys only away win since October was 14-3 over the Dragons on New Year's Eve. Ulster have already beaten Ospreys in Swansea in round two this year and are going for a first ever season's double over the Welsh region.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Stuart Olding, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Ali Birch, 6 Michael McComish, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Tom Court, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Ricky Lutton, 18 Andrew Warwick, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Neil McComb, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Chris Cochrane.

Ospreys: 15 Richard Fussell, 14 Tom Habberfield, 13 Tom Isaacs, 12 Jonathan Spratt, 11 Ben John, 10 Matthew Morgan, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i (capt), 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Morgan Allen, 5 James King, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Cai Griffiths, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dwyer, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Lloyd Peers, 21 Arthur Ellis, 22 Ross Jones, 23 Jamie Murphy.

Date: Friday, February 8
Kick-off: 19:05
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)

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Pool 5
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1Racing Metro Paris28
2Northampton25
3Ospreys25
4Treviso20