Friday 23 February 2018

Henderson urges Ulster to push on as they face first big hurdle

Payne: First start of season. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Payne: First start of season. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Ulster have never won in Scotstoun but have yet to lose this season; something has to give. The province have spoken loud and often of the need to harvest autumn points in order to make the tail-end of the season more manageable.

"At this stage it is all about getting the wins on the board," confirms Iain Henderson, who will start in a side beefed up by the return of fellow Irish star Jared Payne at full-back, with captain Rory Best set to be sprung from the bench.

"We need to clock up as many as possible to make the latter end of the season as easy as possible.

"Glasgow are one of the best teams in the league, they have always been strong over there in the past. We are going for the win, we want to make it four from four. Only three teams are unbeaten so far but we want to deny them the chance to return to the top.

"A lot of the squad have done really well for us in the opening few weeks, when the internationals are away and they have laid down a marker for the rest of us.

"They have set the standard with those three wins, laid down the platform for those of us who haven't been playing.

"It's a good cushion, three wins, so we don't feel like we have to come in and salvage anything. The squad ethos is really good at the moment, it feels like a real collective effort. Now we need to push on."

Head coach Les Kiss has made a total of nine personnel and positional changes as Ulster hope to maintain their unbeaten run.

Returning Irish international Payne will make his first appearance of the season as he starts at full-back, in a back three that sees Charles Piutau move to the left wing, with Louis Ludik starting on the right.

Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson, who have both already picked up Man of the Match awards in the opening three rounds, are retained at half-back, while Stuart McCloskey will be joined in the midfield by Darren Cave.

Rob Herring will captain the side from hooker and will be joined in the front-row by Andy Warwick and Rodney Ah You, while Franco van der Merwe comes in to join Alan O'Connor in the second-row.

Scotland fly-half Finn Russell will make his return from injury, having not featured for the Warriors since last season's Play-off defeat to Connacht in Galway.

On the bench, 18-year-old back-rower Matt Fagerson, brother of Zander, and 22-year-old second-row Sam Thomson could both feature for the first time.

Stuart Hogg once again lines up at full-back, with Italian international Leonardo Sarto returning to the side and taking his place on the right wing.

Mark Bennett comes back into the Warriors midfield after coming off the bench against Cardiff Blues last weekend and he'll partner the returning Alex Dunbar, who was rested last week, after Peter Horne was ruled out for six weeks.

Scrum-half and co-captain Henry Pyrgos also returns from injury and forms a new half-back partnership with Russell. Ryan Wilson switches to No 8 with debutant Tjiuee Uanivi, a Namibian international, coming in at blindside flanker with tyro Lewis Wynne at seven.

"Ulster are a quality team and have recruited very well this season," says coach Gregor Townsend admiringly. "We know it'll be a tough test but it's a game we're all really looking forward to."

A Scarlets' ambush, while Scotland were engaged at the World Cup on the opening day of last season, was the Warriors' sole defeat in almost three years of domestic league supremacy.

Ulster's recent run is impressive; their only defeat in the last eight the knockout loss in the RDS to Leinster in last season's semi-final and their last away defeat in the league came, not surprisingly, here in March. They haven't won in this city for some five years - that was at Partick Thistle's Firhill ground - but Kiss and his men do have some recent knowledge of how to crack the Glasgow code; they beat them 13-10 in Belfast last February.

Making a statement on the road would offer Ulster a significant confidence boost but Glasgow, still stung after last season's semi-final loss, may just prove too strong.

Verdict: Glasgow

Glasgow Warriors - S Hogg; L Sarto, M Bennett, A Dunbar, T Seymour; F Russell, H Pyrgos (co-captain); G Reid, F Brown, Z Fagerson, G Peterson, J Gray (co-captain), T Uanivi, L Wynne, R Wilson. Replacements: P MacArthur, A Allan, S Puafisi, S Thomson, M Fagerson, A Price, N Grigg, R Hughes.

Ulster - J Payne; L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, C Piutau; P Jackson, R Pienaar; A Warwick, R Herring (captain), R Ah You, A O'Connor, F van der Merwe, I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson.

Replacements: R Best, C Black, R Kane, P Browne, C Ross, P Marshall, S Olding, R Lyttle.

Ref - I Davies (WRU).

Glasgow Warriors v Ulster,

Live, BBC 2, 7.35

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