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Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

13th March 2014 11:49

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Scarlets centre Gareth Maule

Centre: Gareth Maule

Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby has made three changes to Friday's starting XV that will face Ulster in their rearranged RaboDirect PRO12 clash.

Gareth Maule returns to centre and Kirby Myhill and Jacobie Adriaanse pack down alongside veteran loosehead Phil John in their front-row.

It'll also be an historic evening for Scarlets' South African second-row duo George Earle and Johan Snyman as they both make their 50th regional appearance in what is a must win PRO12 game.

With three wins from three in the RaboDirect PRO12 in recent weeks Easterby went on to say that the squad has been buoyed by the recent victories and has given themselves the best chance in the final stages of the season.

"The players are really confident with three wins on the trot," he said.

"We have everything to play for. We've put ourselves in a bit of a difficult position in terms of the top four but we feel pretty confident at the moment with the run-in that we've got that we can go to places like Ulster and Glasgow and get the wins."

With only ten points separating the Scarlets and the Ospreys, who are currently in fourth position, the Scarlets have it all to play having already secured 13 points from 15 in the last three rounds.

"An early season inconsistency prevented us from getting closer to the top four," Easterby added.

"We collected five losing bonus points in games that we really should have won. We've started to win those games now and we've had three wins on the bounce; we still have 7 games and 35 points up for grabs."

Meanwhile, Ulster back-row Stephen Ferris has been named on the bench for the game at Ravenhill.

The Ireland international hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury in November 2012 and after 16 months of rehabilitation will make a phased return to play over the coming weeks.

Roger Wilson will make his 150th appearance for the Province in the game and starts at blindside flanker.

The match will also see a first start for centre Stuart McCloskey who came on as a substitute in the win over the Dragons a fortnight ago.

Jared Payne starts the game at full-back, with Tommy Bowe, who scored two tries on his return against Dragons, named on the right wing and Ireland U20s player, Rory Scholes, continuing on the left wing.

Man of the match from the Dragons game, Darren Cave, is selected alongside 21 year-old McCloskey.

Ruan Pienaar is selected at scrum-half, with Paddy Jackson, who has been released from international duty, named at fly-half.

In the pack, John Afoa returns to the starting XV where he joins Callum Black and Rob Herring in the front-row.

Johann Muller starts in the second row and is partnered by Robbie Diack who starts at lock while further back, Sean Doyle starts at openside, with Wilson at blindside and Nick Williams named at number eight.

Ferris is joined on the bench by forwards Niall Annett, Tom Court, Ricky Lutton and Lewis Stevenson, with Michael Heaney, Craig Gilroy and Ricky Andrew completing the matchday squad.

Form: Ulster havel lost just once in the RaboDirect PRO12 since Round 7 in early November: 6-19 to Leinster at the RDS on 28 December. Ulster's only defeat at Ravenhill this season came in their first home match, 12-13 to Glasgow in the PRO12 on 13th September. The only Welsh region to have won in Belfast in the last four seasons was the Ospreys in 2013. Scarlets toppled league leading Munster last time out and have now won their last three PRO12 encounters, their best run for 12 months. Scarlets have won two of their last three away games in all tournaments but have won on just one of their last seven visits to an Irish province: 24-21 against Connacht in November 2013. Scarlets were victorious 17-9 when the two teams met at Parc y Scarlets in round 7, but the Welshmen have only once before achieved a season's double over the Ulstermen - in 2008/09. The Scarlets have won on just two of their previous 13 visits to Ravenhill in all tournaments: 35-11 in the European Cup in January 2007, and 16-9 in the PRO12 in September 2008.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Roger Wilson, 5 Robbie Diack, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Tom Court, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Stephen Ferris, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Craig Gilroy, 23 Ricky Andrew.

Scarlets: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Gareth Maule, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Frazier Climo, 10 Aled Thomas, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (capt), 7 John Barclay, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Johan Snyman, 4 George Earle, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Darran Harris, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Shaun Hopkins, 19 Richard Kelly, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Adam Warren.

Date: Friday, March 14
Kick-off: 19:05 GMT
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: Neil Hennessy (WRU)
Assistant referees: Gary Conway (Ireland), Gary Glennon (Ireland)
Television match official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Assessor: Jack Young (Ireland)

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