Third meets First in what should be an entertaining encounter between two sides with unblemished records, as of yet, in the RaboDirect Pro 12.
Ulster have defeated both Glasgow and Aironi whilst the Cardiff Blues have bettered Edinburgh and Treviso in their opening two matches. The litany of players missing through World Cup duty has not dampened the entertainment value of this ever improving league and Friday’s Ravenhill clash should make for interesting fare.
Indeed there is particular interest from an Ulster perspective as New Zealander Jared Payne makes his competitive bow for the Ulstermen. Payne has represented New Zealand at Under-21 level and comes with a fantastic reputation, as a no nonsense fullback, from Super Rugby side the Auckland Blues.
Ulster’s director of rugby David Humphreys had this to say about the 25-year-old “He comes with a big reputation in terms of the person he is and what he brings to the squad, both on the pitch and off the pitch.”
Ulster have named their squad for this one and will be looking to Ian Humphreys to dictate from fly-half as he can do so effectively. Brian McLaughlin will look for his charges to step up and be counted in the absence of the inspirational Stephen Ferris, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble, Tom Court and Rory Best, all of whom are on World Cup duty with Ireland.
Cardiff Blues have not yet confirmed their squad however they will also be without a sizeable World Cup contingent in the brilliant Welsh captain Sam Warburton, Bradley Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts and Lloyd Williams.
There can be no doubt that Ulster will be favourites for this Ravenhill clash as they have won ten of their last eleven regular season matches in the tournament but the Cardiff Blues, as always, will bring a highly competitive and tough tackling outfit to Belfast.
Ulster Coach Brian McLaughlin acknowledged as much at yesterday’s squad announcement “Cardiff are playing very, very well at the minute. They’ve played two games and they’ve got a bonus point in each so we’re looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
This will indeed be an almighty challenge for Ulster and despite Cardiff’s fantastic form, home advantage and the Ravenhill crowd may just see them over the line.