Ulster return to PRO14 action at Kingspan Stadium for the first time since October 26th when they comfortably defeated the Dragons.
Dan McFarland has named a strong side with returning internationals Jordi Murphy, Rob Herring, John Cooney and Stuart McCloskey starting and Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale included on the bench.
Rob Herring will make his 150th Ulster appearance at hooker tomorrow and is joined in the front row by Andy Warwick and Marty Moore. Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell resume as the second row pairing with the former Leinster academy player remaining as captain. With the inclusion of Jordi Murphy there’s a bit of a reshuffle in the back row. Sean Reidy moves to the blindside with Marcell Coetzee up against Nick Williams at 8. Murphy starts on the openside.
John Cooney starts at scrum half alongside Billy Burns. After a good outing against Scarlets, James Hume moves to outside centre to accommodate Stuart McCloskey at 12. Hume showed good balance of flair and brawn last week and could be in the money if the Blues’ defence is as porous as last week. Louis Ludik moves to the left wing with Henry Speight on the right and Michael Lowry at fullback.
Cardiff are on a similar sort of level as Ulster but sit fifth in Conference A and have lost five PRO14 games so far. They pushed Leinster all the way in their first match with the champions leaving the Arms Park with a one-point victory. They disposed of Munster fairly easily too, running in four tries in a 37-13 win and preventing the away side from scoring in the second half.
They’ve also had some poor performances including sacrificing a 21-7 lead in Parma against Zebre to lose 26-24 as well as a heavy 40-15 defeat against Glasgow Warriors last week. Cardiff fell off 21 tackles and the Scottish side found too much space out wide. Bar a brief second half fight back, the Welsh side never had much of a look in.
Still, they usually and another level of intensity to their game when facing Irish sides. They dished out a few lessons to Ulster in the past with the most recent one being a 35-17 win in March. They haven’t been defeated by Ulster since December 2016 and Ulster have only won two matches against the side from the Welsh capital in the last five meetings.
Key players for the Welsh side include Jarrod Evans who made his international debut for Wales during the most recent internationals. The 22 year old from Pontypridd controlled the last encounter between the sides and rounded off an exceptional performance with a try and was one of the few positives from last week.
Rey Lee-Lo has also enjoyed some success against Ulster while flanker Olly Robinson is in a rich vein of form and tops the Opta’s PRO14 stats for turnovers with 15. I thought Ulster dealt reasonably well with the Scarlets’ prowess at the breakdown last week, but things are only going to get more difficult over the coming weeks. Harri Millard is set to make his first start for Cardiff and he came off the bench to make three clean breaks and beat seven defenders last week.
The FRU predicts: Ulster really need to win this match as they’ve got a tough schedule over the festive period. With a strong team named I tip an Ulster win by 9 points.
|Michael Lowry||15||Matthew Morgan|
|Henry Speight||14||Aled Summerhill|
|James Hume||13||Harri Millard|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||Rey Lee-Lo|
|Louis Ludik||11||Jason Harries|
|Billy Burns||10||Jarrod Evans|
|John Cooney||9||Lloyd Williams|
|Andy Warwick||1||Rhys Gill|
|Rob Herring||2||Kristian Dacey|
|Marty Moore||3||Scott Andrews|
|Alan O’Connor||4||Seb Davies|
|Kieran Treadwell||5||Josh Turnbull|
|Sean Reidy||6||Samu Manoa|
|Jordi Murphy||7||Olly Robinson|
|Marcell Coetzee||8||Nick Williams|
|Rory Best||16||Liam Belcher|
|Eric O’Sullivan||17||Rhys Carre|
|Ross Kane||18||Dillon Lewis|
|Ian Nagle||19||George Earl|
|Nick Timoney||20||James Down|
|Dave Shanahan||21||Tomos Williams|
|Johnny McPhillips||22||Steve Shingler|
|Jacob Stockdale||23||Garyn Smith|