Dan McFarland has named his squad that will kick off Ulster’s Guinness PRO14 campaign against Scarlets tomorrow evening.

New signings Will Addison, Henry Speight and Billy Burns are all set to make their debuts, while Academy players Eric O’Sullivan, Angus Curtis and Angus Kernohan are included among the replacements.

Andy Warwick, John Andrew and Tom O’Toole make up the first front row of the season while Alan O’Connor captains the side from the engine room. Ulster were boosted with news during the week that Iain Henderson was available for selection and he partners O’Connor in the second row. Marcell Coetzee will make his first competitive appearance in over a year on the blindside with Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney at 7 and 8 respectively.

John Cooney is named as Ulster’s scrum half while Billy Burns starts at 10. Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave combine in the centres while Henry Speight and Craig Gilroy named on the left and right wings respectively. Will Addison fills the void left by Charles Piutau in the off season at fullback.

While Ulster have injury worries in the backline, Scarlets have fourteen players ruled out due to injury. Nevertheless they have named a strong side containing new signings Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Clayton Blommetjies, Blade Thomson and Kieron Fonotia. Former Hurricanes player, Thomson has the task of masking hole left by Tadhg Beirne who left for Munster in the off season. Ulster’s arch-nemesis James Davies starts at flanker.

Ulster showed how to defeat Scarlets in this fixture last season. They starved Scarlets of the ball as well as forcing them into mistakes when they did have it. Stuart McCloskey put in his best performance against the Scarlets last season as he had the freedom to carry. Likewise, the support runners allowed for offloads which created chances. With Davies starting at 13, I expect Scarlets to be more defensively solid in the wider channels. Despite the injuries, last season’s runners up will fancy themselves.

With the additions in the backline combined with the usual pre-season rustiness, I’m expecting a few errors early on. Last season Ulster showed, on occasion, that they could play running rugby. I thought that an open game suited last season’s side and, despite wholesale changes, I think this is true for this crop of players. In too few games last season Ulster struggled to get players running support lines which led to the ball carriers getting isolated and therefore losing the momentum or being penalized at the ruck. Ulster would be different side if they had supporting players on the shoulders of the ball carriers.

The FRU predicts: A Coetzee-inspired Ulster to defeat Scarlets in a close but exciting game. The presence of the South African always seems to lift his team mates and I expect this game to be no different.

Ulster v Scarlets
Will Addison 15 Clayton Blommetjies
Craig Gilroy 14 Tom Prydie
Darren Cave 13 Jonathan Davies
Stuart McCloskey 12 Kieron Fonotia
Henry Speight 11 Steff Evans
Billy Burns 10 Rhys Patchell
John Cooney 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
Andy Warwick 1 Rob Evans
John Andrew 2 Ken Owens
Tom O’Toole 3 Werner Kruger
Alan O’Connor 4 David Bulbring
Iain Henderson 5 Steven Cummins
Marcell Coetzee 6 Blade Thomson
Sean Reidy 7 James Davies
Nick Timoney 8 Josh Macleod
Adam McBurney 16 Ryan Elias
Eric O’Sullivan 17 Phil Price
Ross Kane 18 Simon Gardiner
Kieran Treadwell 19 Ed Kennedy
Chris Henry 20 Dan Davis
Dave Shanahan 21 Gareth Davies
Angus Curtis 22 Dan Jones
Angus Kernohan 23 Ioan Nicholas

 

#SUFTUM