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Preview: Ulster v Scarlets

09th May 2013 13:27

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Ulster celebrate Darrenn Cave Jared Payne

Midfield man: Darren Cave

The first RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final of the weekend comes from Ravenhill this Friday as Ulster go for a win hat-trick over the Scarlets in 2012/13.

The Ravenhill outfit defeated the Welsh region both home and away during the regular-season.

And with the Scarlets coming into this fixture having been comprehensively beaten on home soil by Treviso, Ulster will enter as favourites.

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has made four changes and one positional switch for the contest as Ireland internationals Paddy Jackson, Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick and Dan Tuohy all return to the side, while Ruan Pienaar switches to 9.

Paul Marshall, Callum Black and Iain Henderson, who all started last week, are named in the 23.

However, in a major blow, tighthead prop John Afoa was unavailable for selection, having failed to recover from the hamstring injury that he sustained against Cardiff Blues last week.

Meanwhile, the Scarlets will take confidence from a series of big away wins over the course of the season including results on the road in Glasgow, Munster, Edinburgh and Connacht.

And while last week's loss to Treviso hurt, prior to that game they were on a five-match winning run so coach Simon Easterby is keen to move on and put in a good display.

"All that happened last week against Treviso has been firmly put to bed now. We are one of four teams that have 80 minutes of rugby in front of them to prove their ability and battle for a place in the final," he said.

"This is where we wanted to be this season, we've achieved a top four finish, now we have to bring everything we have to this game to back up all the hard work we've put in throughout the season."

Easterby makes three changes to his matchday squad, with Wales international fly-half Rhys Priestland returning to the starting line-up after two appearances from the bench.

Hooker Emyr Phillips replaces Matthew Rees on the bench (groin injury) and Gareth Owen comes onto the bench for Gareth Maule (thumb injury). Back-row Rob McCusker, who was withdrawn late against Treviso with a rib injury, returns to captain his Welsh side.

Form: Ulster finished on top of the pile in the RaboDirect PRO12 table this season to qualify for a first Play-Off since 2010/11. The Ulstermen have lost just one of their last six encounters in the competition; 8-14 at Edinburgh on 22nd March. Ulster's solo defeat to a Welsh region in their last nine such matches was 12-16 at home to Ospreys on 8th February. Scarlets five game winning run in the PRO12 came to a shuddering halt with their 17-41 reversal at the hands of BenettonTreviso at Parc y Scarlets in round 22. The Welshmen's last five fixtures against Irish provinces have all been won by the home side on the day. This is Scarlets first appearance in the Play-Offs. Ulster have won five of their last six contests against Scarlets with the Welshmen's only success during that time being 24- 17 at Parc y Scarlets on 29 October 2011. Scarlets have not been victorious at Ravenhill since the opening round of the 2008/09 season.

Ones to watch:

For Ulster: We go for the sole British and Irish Lion in the line-up, Tommy Bowe. The Ireland international is a big-game player and therefore we expect him to go well. A likely try scorer.

For Scarlets: In only his third game back from injury, a lot will rest on the shoulder of Rhys Priestland. Just how far he is down the Lions pecking order is unclear but if he can dominate at Ravenhill, head coach Warren Gatland may bump him up the standby list.

Head-to-head: Two full-backs who love to run will clash on Friday as Jared Payne takes on Liam Williams. Payne this week put pen to paper on a new Ulster contract so he will want to rubber stamp that deal with a strong performance. Williams meanwhile is a quality runner, as we will see this week and also against Japan for Wales during their June Tests.

Prediction: Scarlets will respond from last week but it won't be enough. Ulster by 5!

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Michael Allen, 23 Peter Nelson.

Scarlets: 15 Liam Williams, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Andy Fenby, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Aled Davies, 8 Josh Turnbull, 7 Rob McCusker (capt), 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Johan Synman, 4 George Earle, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Phil John.
Replacements: 16 Emyr Phillips, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Jacobie Adriannse, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Sione Timani, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Gareth Owen.

Date: Friday, May 10
Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Mcmenemy (Scotland), Adrian Graves (Scotland)
Citing commissioner: tba (Scotland)
Television match official: Iain Ramage (Scotland)

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