Preview: Champions Cup play-off, Ulster v Ospreys

Date published: May 18 2018

Ulster clash with the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Sunday with a spot in the Champions Cup for next season at stake.

Robbie Diack, Callum Black and Charles Piutau will play their final games in Ulster colours after being named in the starting team.

The coaching team have been boosted by the return of John Cooney and Piutau, who missed the PRO14 trip to Munster earlier this month due to concussion and personal reasons respectively.

However, Rory Best (hamstring), Iain Henderson and Clive Ross (both knee) have been ruled out through injury, so Rob Herring, Kieran Treadwell and Diack come into the side.

That means that there are five personnel changes to the team that drew 24-24 at Thomond Park.

Ulster Player of the Year Cooney will start at scrum-half and he will resume his half-back combination with Johnny McPhillips, who will start for the ninth consecutive game.

Piutau’s inclusion at full-back sees Louis Ludik switch to the right wing berth, with Jacob Stockdale named on the other flank. Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall will form a familiar partnership in midfield.

Diack, who is set to earn his 206th Ulster cap on Sunday, will be joined in the back-row by Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney.

With Best out injured, Herring comes in to start at hooker and will also take over the captaincy role. Black and Ross Kane will pack down either side of their skipper, while Alan O’Connor and Treadwell are paired in the second-row.

Meanwhile, Ospreys head coach Allen Clarke, who names the likes of Dan Biggar, Alun-Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Bradley Davies in his side, said ahead of the encounter:

“It’s a big game, no doubt, and there is a prize for both sides at the end of it.

“Both teams want to be playing in the Champions Cup next season. You earn the right to play in the elite competition and, for ourselves and Ulster, it all comes down to this one game.

“As a collective, we’ve had to work hard to put ourselves into a position where we are one win away from qualification. We’ve come from somewhere where absolutely nobody would have backed us to get through, after we lost in Connacht in February, and we did that by digging in, staying tight as a team and working hard together to put together a run of results that has put us where we are.

“Ulster are a very good team and they will have home advantage but our preparation, our focus, has been all about us and that will be the case again for 80 minutes on Sunday.”

Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Jonny McPhillips, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Jack Regan, 20 Chris Henry, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Craig Gilroy

Ospreys: 15 Sam Davies, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Hanno Dirksen, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tom Habberfield, 8 James King, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Scott Otten, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Adam Beard, 20 Sam Cross, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Cory Allen, 23 James Hook

Date: Sunday, May 20
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 15:05 local (14:05 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson, Gianluca Gnecchi
TMO: Andrew McMenemy