Thursday 19 October 2017

Marshall centre stage as Ulster eye top spot

Luke Marshall, Ulster
Luke Marshall, Ulster
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

They'd have taken this after a miserable European campaign. They never got going in the Champions Cup but top spot in the Pro12 now beckons for Ulster.

A bonus point win tonight puts them at the summit, at least until current leaders Glasgow and third-placed Munster meet tomorrow.

But the value of a win goes beyond that. With all of the other teams in the top five playing each other, Neil Doak's men could put some daylight between themselves and some of the other play-off chasing sides.

Ulster and Scarlets are familiar with each other, having met in back-to-back Champions Cup encounters in December, and things have been finely balanced too.

Both sides won their home games in continental competition, while the league meeting in Llanelli earlier in the Pro12 campaign ended in a 32-32 draw.

Rousing

Ulster perhaps come in to this one in better form. They put in a rousing defensive display to get out of Edinburgh with a win last week. They were reduced to 13 men for the final exchanges in Scotland but held on grimly for a 20-17 win.

Stuart McCloskey was red-carded in that game and subsequently banned for four weeks; and his place in the centres goes to Luke Marshall (above).

Roger Wilson and Darren Cave have been parachuted straight into the side after being released by Ireland late in the week.

Tonight is only Marshall's sixth start of the season and he's hoping to make up for lost time as Ulster look to continue their recent good form.

"I suppose it opens up a door for me," he says of McCloskey's ban. The first half of the season was pretty frustrating for me due to the amount of competition and a couple of injuries as well so I'm now enjoying being back in the team and the squad in general and just playing rugby really.

"We're two out of two at the moment so there's no reason why we can't go for it especially with this one at home and then the Dragons away," he said of the four Pro12 games during the Six Nations.

"We're currently playing teams outside the top four or six and then the top four sides are playing against each other, so in some ways all that suits us.

"Now that we've won three on the bounce I suppose there is a lot more confidence in the squad."

It could be a very big night for Ian Humphreys, who makes his 100th appearance for the province, while he is also just nine points short of the 500 mark in the Pro12.

Interim signing Mike Stanley could also make his first appearance off the bench but there is no place for another new face, openside Tim Boys, who is ruled out with a toe injury.

Still, Ulster usually win at home and considering their good form they should make it a fourth straight win in the competition.

Verdict: Ulster

ULSTER - L Ludik; C Gilroy, D Cave, L Marshall, M Allen; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring, W Herbst; D Tuohy, F Van der Merwe; R Wilson (captain), C Ross, N Williams.

Reps: J Andrew, A Warwick, B Ross, L Stevenson, M McComish, P Marshall, M Stanley, R Scholes.

SCARLETS - J Williams; H Robinson, R King, H Parkes, M Tagicakibau; S Shingler, A Davies; P John, K Owens (capt), P Edwards; G Earle, L Rawlins; A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay.

Reps: R Elias, R Thomas, J Adriaanse, J Payne, R McCusker, G Davies, A Warren, K Phillips.

Ref - B Whitehouse (WRU)

Ulster v Scarlets,

Live, BBC NI, 7.35

Irish Independent

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