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Preview: Glasgow v Ulster

17th April 2014 12:13

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Glasgow v Ulster

Tight affair: Glasgow v Ulster

Glasgow welcome PRO12 title rivals Ulster to Scotstoun on Saturday, and will need to be at their best to ensure a crucial win.

I wrote earlier this week that Scottish rugby needed a lift after a demoralising Six Nations, and that that lift must come from Glasgow Warriors' quest for the PRO12 title.

The Warriors can all but secure a top-four spot with victory over Ulster on Friday - and indeed it is important they do, with playoff rivals Leinster, Munster and Ospreys all lining up for fixtures they are heavy favourites to win.

Ulster are shorn of several key names: talisman Ruan Pienaar is sidelined, as are Rory Best, Robbie Diack, Dan Tuohy and Roger Wilson. Jared Payne is still suspended following his controversial aerial antics against Saracens. All are big players the province would dearly love to field as the business end of the season approaches.

But the visitors to Scotstoun are hardly short of quality. Missing five of the above, they destroyed Connacht in the Ravenhill sunshine last weekend. Paddy Jackson - a man Scottish fans will remember as the kid who struggled to keep his nerve at Murrayfield in last year's Six Nations - ran the show as he continues to mature and develop from baby-faced prodigy to steely lynchpin.

Then there's World Cup-winning skipper Johann Muller, Tommy Bowe, returning to his strong-running, defence-splintering best after injury, and last week's hat-trick hero Andrew Trimble, in lethal form for club and country this season.

Mark Anscombe makes three changes this week, as his side look to avenge their last-gasp defeat to the Warriors at Ravenhill in the second game of the season.

Bowe, filling in at outside centre in the Connacht rout, moves back to the left wing, with Darren Cave coming into midfield to partner Luke Marshall, and British and Irish Lion Tom Court returning at loosehead.

With Diack out, Chris Henry - a stand-out performer in Ireland's Six Nations triumph - moves from openside to blindside, and Sean Doyle wears the number seven jersey. Stephen Ferris picked up an ankle injury in training this week that restricts him to the sidelines.

This is a game Glasgow should win, and a stern test of their title credentials. Fronting up on home turf is crucial - only Munster have won at Scotstoun in the PRO12 this season, and the Warriors returned the compliment with their fine Thomond triumph last Saturday.

Gregor Townsend has stuck with the same pack that shone in Limerick, with the back-row comprising the ball-carrying power of Josh Strauss and Ryan Wilson with the scavenging tenacity of Chris Fusaro.

The ex-Scotland international has, as he often does, shuffled the backline, with much-vaunted youngster Finn Russell trusted with the fly-half jersey ahead of Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson.

Peter Horne makes his first start after recovering from the cruciate ligament damage that has kept him sidelined for some nine months at inside centre, and is partnered by Mark Bennett, returning from the Melrose Sevens.

It's a dangerous backline and a dangerous bench too, with Niko Matawalu named alongside Jackson and midfield convert Richie Vernon among the substitutes.

Form: Glasgow Warriors have won their last four PRO12 matches and have only failed to score a try in just one game in any competition this season: at home to Munster in October.

The Warriors record against Irish provinces this season is won five, lost two.

Ulster Rugby have lost just one of their last eight PRO12 encounters: 23-28 at Cardiff Blues in round 18, whilst the eight tries they tallied in their defeat of Connacht on Friday was the most they have scored in a PRO12 game since May 2006.

Glasgow have won their last two encounters with Ulster and are attempting to record a fist season's double over the Ulstermen since 2009/10.

Prediction: It'll be tight, but the hosts will get there. Glasgow by five.

By Jamie Lyall

The teams:

Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Chris Cusiter (c), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Josh Strauss, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Dougie Hall, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Pat MacArthur, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Leone Nakarawa, 20 Rob Harley, 21 Niko Matawalu, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Richie Vernon

Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Chris Henry, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 James McKinney, 23 Craig Gilroy

Date: Friday 18th April
Venue: Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
Kick-off: 1935 (local & BST)
Referee: John Lacey (Ire)
Assistant referees: David Changleng, Graeme Marshall (both Sco)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Sco)

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