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Ulster and Ospreys turn to PRO12 for consolation

Ulster coach Neil Doak has not strayed too far away from his best formula for success in making two changes against The Ospreys.

Prop Andrew Warwick follows his signature to a new two-year contract with a start at loose-head in place of Callum Black, while Michael Allen wears a wing jersey for the rested Craig Gilroy.

These are two clubs with their focus narrowed in towards the PRO12 League now that progress in The Champions Cup has been derailed.

There is enough firepower in the Ulster three-quarter line to wipe out any defence, even without Jared Payne and Paddy Jackson.

The main question is where fly-half Ian Humphreys sees his place within the province. Is he merely the back up to Jackson? Or does he have the confidence to take the jersey?

INJURY

It was asking too much for the man inside him, Ruan Pienaar, to come back from the Rugby Championship and injury to guide Ulster through the shark-infested waters Europe have become.

This is where he can make the greatest impact because his forwards can dominate in the PRO12 in a way they could not in Europe.

It all starts with captain Rory Best and the frustratingly fragile Declan Fitzpatrick, allied to the lineout nous of Franco van der Merwe and his lock partner Dan Tuohy.

They will be well aware of the competitive instincts of Ospreys captain Alun Wyn Jones and how he makes everyone around him better.

"We need to get that momentum back within the League," said Ospreys coach Steve Tandy.

Flanker Clive Ross will be given the task of beating Justin Tipuric to the breakdown and he will need the support of Robbie Diack and Roger Wilson in that area.

Stuart Olding could just be Doak's rabbit-out-of-the-hat from the bench.

There is one point between the first four clubs and five points separating the top half-dozen clubs as the squeeze comes on going into a highly competitive Christmas period.

"Ulster are a top-end team," said Tandy.

"They've got some very good overseas players. They've got some top class Irish guys. We know it's going to be difficult. But, we're in a confident place at the minute."

This will be surely improved by the impact of Dan Lydiate off the bench in what will be his debut for the Swansea-based club.

Ospreys: D Evans; H Dirksen, A Beck, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb; M Thomas, S Baldwin, D Arhip, R Bernardo, AW Jones (capt), J King, J Tipuric, T Ardron.

Ulster: L Ludik; T Bowe, D Cave, L Marshall, M Allen, I Humphreys, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Best (capt), D Fitzpatrick, D Tuohy, F van der Merwe, R Diack, C Ross, R Wilson.

Verdict: The Ospreys.


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