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Ulster success rides on stifling Munster's middle men

ULSTER and Munster are locked together on eight points, one behind pacesetters The Scarlets. Something has to give in Belfast tonight.

The Northern Province have got into their stride quickly under the new stewardship of New Zealander Mark Anscombe with back-to-back wins over Glasgow (18-10) at home and defending champions the Ospreys (16-13) in Swansea.

Stephen Ferris will take to the field for his 100th Ulster cap in a side showing seven changes. These include fly-half Paddy Jackson, who was immaculate when sprung from the bench last week.

Another Kiwi, Rob Penney, has also made an impressive start to his tenure at Munster, working out wins away to Edinburgh (23-18) and at home to Benetton Treviso (19-6).

The James Downey-Casey Laulala axis in the centre is working like a charm already. Dublin northsider Downey must be on the cusp of an international call-up if this continues.

He is a large specimen at 6'4" and 16.5 stones and one that has added offloading in tight spaces from his time at Northampton Saints.

When he breaks the first line of defence or gets his hands free in the tackle, there is no more dangerous runner in this league than the twice-capped All Black.

How Ulster contain or restrict the influence of these two can go a long way towards deciding the outcome.

Ulster v Munster, Ravenhill, Tonight (KO 7.05) Live RTE 2

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster: J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, M Allen; P Jackson, P Marshall; T Court, N Brady, J Afoa, J Muller (capt), L Stevenson, S Ferris, S Doyle, N Williams.