Jono Gibbes makes four changes for tomorrow night’s Guinness PRO14 clash against Ospreys as Ulster aim to record back to back victories for the first time in 2018.
Callum Black returns to the starting line-up while Ross Kane makes his first start since the away trip against the Dragons. Sean Reidy starts at No.8 while Kieran Treadwell replaces Matthew Dalton.
Rory Best captains the side from hooker alongside Black and Kane in the front row. Iain Henderson remains in the second row after his excellent outing last week and is partnered by Treadwell. Jean Deysel moves to open side flanker in a surprising move to accommodate Sean Reidy while Matthew Rea remains as Ulster’s blindside option. I would have thought Deysel would remain at 8 with Reidy starting at flanker.
Tom O’Toole has to settle for a spot on the bench after a great performance against Edinburgh while Angus Curtis and Tommy O’Hagan who are yet to make their debuts do not feature in the match day 23. O’Toole went through a learning experience in the scrum last week and Gibbes’ preference of Callum Black should give Ulster parity in this area. Black is up against a useful scrummager in Moldovan international, Dmitri Arhip.
For the first time this season, the back line remains unchanged from the previous season. Confidence is buoyed by the news of fan-favourite Darren Cave committing his future to Ulster for at least another year. Cave was impressive last week and kept a dangerous Mark Bennett fairly quiet. This week he has the task of dealing with Kieron Fonotia and a dangerous Owen Watkin on his inside. Despite going off last week after taking several knocks, Louis Ludik is fit to start on the right wing.
Ospreys endured a tough start to the season with only three PRO14 wins until the new year. However they have rallied together to win five league matches out of six and occupy the Champions Cup play off spot in Conference A. They will however have their eyes on finishing fourth with Cardiff Blues just eight points ahead. Both teams face off on the last day of the regular season.
Last week, the 2011-12 champions brushed Connacht easily to the side at the Liberty Stadium last week with a five-try bonus point victory. Dan Bigger walked off with the man of the match award while Dan Evans was a threat from fullback. Ulster were excellent at limiting the space afford to Blair Kinghorn last week and the same will need to be done for Evans who has 11 tries to his name in both competitions this season.
Consistency has been a major problem for Ulster in recent seasons but it has been really emphasized throughout this year. After two very good wins against Harlequins in December, Ulster shipped their heaviest ever defeat against Connacht while January’s win over La Rochelle preceded a drubbing in Coventry against Wasps. Now in the business end of the season, Ulster need to produce a late run of form.
There’s a consensus that Ulster do not deserve to make the play offs based on past performances however there is a chance that the game week could end with northern province just three points behind Edinburgh and with a game in hand.
The FRU predicts: There is a high possibility that this match will be a dress rehearsal for the Champions Cup play off, but I expect Ulster to end Ospreys’ winning run. Ulster to win by six points.
|Charles Piutau||15||Dan Evans|
|Louis Ludik||14||Jeff Hassler|
|Darren Cave||13||Kieron Fonotia|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||Owen Watkin|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Hanno Dirksen|
|Johnny McPhillips||10||Dan Biggar|
|John Cooney||9||Tom Habberfield|
|Callum Black||1||Nicky Smith|
|Rory Best (C)||2||Scott Otten|
|Ross Kane||3||Dmitri Arhip|
|Kieran Treadwell||4||Bradley Davies|
|Iain Henderson||5||Adam Beard|
|Matthew Rea||6||Alun Wyn Jones (C)|
|Jean Deysel||7||Sam Cross|
|Sean Reidy||8||James King|
|Rob Herring||16||Ifan Phillips|
|Andrew Warwick||17||Rhodri Jones|
|Tom O’Toole||18||Ma’afu Fia|
|Alan O’Connor||19||Lloyd Ashley|
|Nick Timoney||20||Guy Mercer|
|David Shanahan||21||Matthew Aubrey|
|Luke Marshall||22||Sam Davies|
|Tommy Bowe||23||James Hook|