The RaboDirect Pro 12 gets underway this weekend and Ravenhill has the honour of hosting the opening game in the renamed competition. The home side, Ulster take on Glasgow Warriors at 7.05.
The Northern side reached the playoffs last season and will be hoping to get their new campaign off to a flyer by claiming full points at home. Ulster have won their last six matches at Ravenhill in the competition, whilst the most recent Scottish side to defeat them was Friday night’s opposition back on 4 December 2009.
However, Glasgow Warriors traditionally hit the ground running and have been victorious in round one for the past three seasons. They tend to lose focus in the latter stages though and finished their last campaign with three successive defeats. Indeed the Scots have struggled on the road and recorded just one away victory last season, 17-16 at Aironi.
Ulster achieved the double over Glasgow in 2010/11. The Irish side won 19-17 at Ravenhill and followed up with a 22-19 victory in Scotland. It is difficult to see anything other than a home win again this weekend and Ulster get the nod to start their season on the right note.
Brian McLaughlin has named a strong side for the home clash with Glasgow this Friday (kick off 7.05pm).
Paul Marshall and Ian Humphreys will dictate affairs from half back and will again team up with centres Nevin Spence and Darren Cave. Ian Whitten finds himself out of his regular position in the centre as he occupies the left wing berth for the first time. He is joined in the back three by Adam D’Arcy and last season’s top try scorer Craig Gilroy.
Chris Henry will captain the side from number 8 and is joined in the back row by the experienced Pedrie Wannenburg and Willie Faloon. Lewis Stevenson will make his first competitive appearance for Ulster and will partner Dan Tuohy in the second row. Jerry Cronin, Paddy McAllister and Andi Kyriacou make up Ulster’s front row.
Academy duo Conor Carey and Peter Nelson, as well as development player Adam Macklin, are named among the replacements so are in line for their first competitive appearance.
Nelson, in his first year out of school, has impressed in the pre-season friendly matches against Neath and Harlequins and will cover positions 11 to 15. Nineteen year old Carey has been playing club rugby for Ballymena and put in a number of excellent performances for the Ravens in the British & Irish Cup last year. Macklin also appeared for the Ravens but missed most of last season with an ankle injury.
Nigel Brady, Neil McComb, Ian Porter and Paddy Jackson are the other players to be named on the bench.
McLaughlin is confident that his side can hit the ground running after an excellent pre-season win over Harlequins last Friday. “Against Harlequins we set our stall out, we wanted to show our fans what they can expect from us at Ravenhill this season. The key thing is that we build on what we did last weekend. We’re very pleased with the tempo that we played at; we’re pleased with the way that we were trying to play,” he said.
“We’ve got to make sure we cross the whitewash on Friday night and do exactly the same, only better. It’s a matter now of proving we can do it in the heat of battle and in the heat of the competition.”
McLaughlin feels the World Cup call ups that have hit his squad is a positive, rather than a negative: “To have nine players away representing their country is outstanding for us and we’re very pleased. From our point of view it’s exciting and challenging. We’re looking forward to the challenge; we’re looking forward to seeing how are youth perform at this level. It’s vital for them and it’s vital for our future. For them it’s a great opportunity, it’s a great challenge for us and it’s one that we really want to get our teeth into.”
The Ulster coach feels the early stages will go a great way to show who is capable of challenging for honours at the end of the season. “I hope that we will be up there in and around the top three or four, that’s one of our aims. But we’ll have to wait and see how all the teams react over the next 6 or 7 weeks, how they progress or regress in relation to having players away. The final placings in the league will not be decided in the next 6 or 7 weeks but I think you’ll get a fair handle on just what other sides have in their squads.”
Tickets are still available for the game. Tickets can be bought online at www.ulsterrugby.com , by calling the ticket office on 02890493222 (option 2), or at the gate on match night.
Ulster Rugby would like to remind supporters that this season ticket zoning and scanning will be in operation at the ground and supporters should check their tickets to ensure that are entering through the correct gate. More details are available at http://www.ulsterrugby.com/news/9575.php.
Ulster Rugby also encourages supporters coming to the game to avoid parking along Onslow Parade/Ravenhill Park and Mount Merrion Avenue as traffic control will be in operation.
Ulster (15-9):A D’Arcy; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten; I Humphreys, P Marshall; (1-8) P McAllister, A Kyriacou, J Cronin, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, W Faloon, C Henry (capt).
Replacements: N Brady, C Carey, A Macklin, N McComb, R Diack, I Porter, P Jackson, P Nelson.