Monday 19 March 2018

Irish stars to boost Ulster's swift start

Ulster's Rob Herring Picture: Graham Stuart / SPORTSFILE
Ulster's Rob Herring Picture: Graham Stuart / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

Les Kiss couldn't have scripted it better: two wins under his belt as the heavy hitters return to action with expected home victory against struggling Scarlets likely to confirm a flawless start to what must be a defining season for Ulster in their perennial quest to end their long trophy drought.

Rob Herring will make his 100th appearance for the province and the co-captain will be joined in the match-day panel by returning Ireland trio Craig Gilroy, Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson, along with All Black Charles Piutau.

Emphasising the encouraging start to the season with a shadow squad, there are eight seasonal debutants in all with Callum Black, Pete Browne, Alan O'Connor and Robbie Diack bolstering the pack, while Gilroy, Jackson, Piutau and Stuart McCloskey join an already potent backline.

Herring, a try scorer in each of Ulster's last three games, will be joined in the front-row by Black and Rodney Ah You.

Browne and O'Connor form a new second-row partnership, with Clive Ross and Sean Reidy retaining their places on the side of the scrum and Diack packing down at No 8.

Jackson will combine with Ruan Pienaar at half-back, while McCloskey and Stuart Olding are named in midfield. Louis Ludik switches from full-back to left wing, with Gilroy and Piutau completing the line-up.

Andy Warwick could earn his 50th Ulster cap after being named among the replacements. Henderson will be a robust option for Kiss to spring from the bench, with John Andrew, Academy prop Ross Kane and Franco van der Merwe listed as the other forward replacements.

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac makes wholesale changes after a disastrous start to the campaign.

Hadleigh Parkes comes in to partner Jonathan Davies in midfield while Liam Williams moves to the wing with Aled Thomas at full-back.

"It doesn't get any easier but we take confidence from the fact that we had a great performance out there last year," says Kiwi Pivac, "so we know within the group of players we have here that it can be done.

"We had to play our best game out there last year to get the win. We threw the kitchen sink at each other and it was a great victory for us."

Scarlets derailed Ulster's home semi-final bid last season with a notable double; they have never, and will not now, score a hat-trick.

Verdict: Ulster

Ulster - C Piutau; C Gilroy, S Olding, S McCloskey, L Ludik; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring (capt), R Ah You; P Browne, A O'Connor; C Ross, S Reidy, R Diack. Reps: J Andrew, A Warwick, R Kane, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, A Lloyd, L Marshall, R Lyttle.

Scarlets - A Thomas, L Williams, Jonathan Davies, H Parkes, S Evans, R Patchell, G Davies, W Jones, K Owens (capt), W Kruger, J Ball, D Bulbring, L Rawlins, James Davies, J Barclay. Reps: R Elias, L Garrett, P Edwards, T Beirne, W Boyde, Aled Davies, S Williams, S Hughes.

Ref - B Whitehouse (Wales).

Ulster v Scarlets, Live, BBC2 NI, 7.05pm

Irish Independent

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