Ulster will aim to get their faltering season back on track when they welcome the Scarlets to Ravenhill on Friday (kick off 7.05pm)
Despite a poor run of form that has seen them win just once in their last five Pro12 games Ulster will hope for some home comforts as they bid to return to winning ways and with only one defeat in their twelve matches at Ravenhill they will be confident they can end the Scarlet’s recent impressive run.
The Welsh side head to Belfast in the midst of an eight game unbeaten run in all competitions stretching back 2 months to their 10-20 loss in Treviso on 1st October.
The last time out they beat the Dragons 22-12, their confidence no doubt high following their Heineken Cup exploits, which saw them beat Aviva Premiership side Northampton 28-23 away and French side 31-23 at home.
However the Scarlet’s haven’t won in Ravenhill since a 16-9 win in September 2008 and haven’t tasted victory on Irish soil since they beat Connacht in January 2009. Ulster did the double over the Scarlet’s last season, running out 20-18 winners at home and 18-16 winners away, however the Welsh side did win the most recent clash between the sides, a 24-17 at Parc y Scarlets, in October.
Team news: Brian McLaughlin has named an extended 33 man for the clash with Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Craig Gilroy and Rory Best all available again for selection having been rested for last weekend’s defeat against Glasgow. Ulster are also boosted by the return of All Black prop John Afoa.
Despite not being named in the match day squad, McLaughlin is optimistic that Ruan Pienaar will be fit to take his place on Friday while Paddy Wallace and Jared Payne are definitely out.
The Scarlets will be without a number of key players for the clash with international stars George North, Matthew Rees, Rhys Priestland and Scott Williams all on duty against Australia. Scarlets coach Nigel Davies will also be without flanker Josh Turnbull who misses out following shoulder surgery while lock Dominic Day is also out with a calf tear.
Tongan centre Viliame Iongi, who made his debut last weekend against the Dragon’s, should feature again while Stephen Jones who is set to make his 301st appearance will captain the side in the absence of Rees.
Forwards: Paddy McAllister, Callum Black, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, John Afoa, Declan Fitzpatrick, Jerry Cronin, Andi Kyriacou, Nigel Brady, Rory Best, Lewis Stevenson, Johann Muller (captain), Dan Tuohy, Tim Barker, Neil McComb, Stephen Ferris, Michael McComish, Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack
Backs: Paul Marshall, Ian Porter, Ian Humphreys, Paddy Jackson, Nevin Spence, Luke Marshall, Ian Whitten, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy, Simon Danielli, Andrew Trimble, Adam D’Arcy
Prediction: Despite Scarlets being the form side at present, the Heineken cup wins were achieved with their Welsh stars, all of whom are missing tomorrow. A win over second from bottom Dragons would have been expected given their neighbours standing in the table leaving me to suggest that Ulster, if they can cut out the handling errors that have marred recent games, could get back to winning ways. I think Ulster by less than 7 pts.
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