Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Ospreys

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Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Ospreys

Post by ADM »

[tag=image] ... J70CKH.jpg[/tag][tag=content]And so the bandwagon rolls on!

Not too many teams (if any) will come away from Scotstoun with four points, so we've already taken a massive step towards the play offs at this early stage of the season. I know, I know, there's still a long long way to go, but there's no harm in doing all we can now to help ourselves down the line in April and May.

Don't forget, we're still unbeaten as well! Four games up, four wins recorded. With our policy of rotation in full swing, it means our squad is fresher than it has been in previous seasons and we seem to be reaping the rewards - heading into our two European games we seem to be in a very strong position to start that campaign in a good frame of mind too.

First, though, we have to keep focusing on the Pro12, more specifically the visit of a wounded Ospreys side to the Kingspan Stadium tomorrow.

Their start to the season has been somewhat strange in that they started with three bonus point wins before being dismantled by Leinster last weekend. Admittedly their three wins were over Zebre, Connacht and Treviso (the bottom three teams in the league), so it's questionable how accurate their start was, but their ability to claw back a 31-point deficit at the RDS last week so they only lost by 12 points was impressive.

They have Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar to thank for that. So long overlooked by the Welsh system, Webb and Biggar have developed into two outstanding half-backs, especially when combined together, and are one of the most potent combinations in Europe let alone the Pro12. So much of what they do contributes to how successful the Ospreys can be.

That's not to say they don't have threats elsewhere - Dan Evans, Jeff Hassler and Eli Walker are excellent broken field runners and Justin Tipuric is one of the best breakdown operators in the league. With the fast ball they give to Webb and Biggar, their rapid attacking potential can cause us real problems.

That said, if we can get to Webb and/or Biggar (preferably both) that threat tends to be negated. As good as Josh Matavesi is at inside centre, he doesn't have the same playmaking and distribution ability as Biggar does at first receiver. And if our back row plays as well as it did in Glasgow last week then Tipuric will have a tough time securing the quick ball they need.

On top of that our squad is full of confidence after our four wins. We have healthy competition for places, not just in the backs but also in the forwards too, and we have healthier players as a result of our rotation. Another big win this week to back up our victory in Glasgow will be a huge statement both to the rest of the league and to our European opponents.

And let's see how a certain Mr. Bowe does off the bench...

The stats
Ulster Rugby have lost just one of their last nine Guinness PRO12 matches: 18-30 to Leinster at the RDS Arena in last season’s semi-final.

This is Ulster’s best start to a new campaign since they set the Championship record of winning their opening 11 contests in season 2012/13.

Ospreys had recorded maximum league points after three rounds but were brought back down to earth with a 19-31 loss to Leinster on Friday.

Ospreys only victory in their last five encounters with Irish provinces was 32-11 over Connacht in Galway in round 2.

Things could not be more even in previous encounters between the two sides with each attaining 13 victories, however of late Ulster’s only loss to Ospreys in their last six meetings was 20-31 at Liberty Stadium in December 2014.

Ospreys have won just once at Kingspan Stadium since 2010: 16-12 in February 2013.

The teams
Les Kiss makes four changes for the game, however the most notable inclusion in the squad is Tommy Bowe, who could make his return from injury if he comes on from the bench. In the backs Craig Gilroy comes onto the wing with Charles Piutau moving to full back, Jared Payne going to outside centre and Darren Cave shifting to inside centre. The other change comes at scrum half where Paul Marshall starts ahead of Ruan Pienaar. Up front Kyle McCall and Rory Best are recalled to the starting line-up at loosehead prop and hooker respectively.

Six changes for the Ospreys from their defeat to Leinster as they play their second consecutive match in Ireland. Dan Evans is recalled to the back three ahead of Sam Davies, along with Eli Walker who replaces Ashley Beck with Ben John moving to outside centre to accommodate him. In the forwards Nicky Smith makes his 50th appearance after being moved into the front row at loosehead prop, along with hooker Sam Parry. Wales international Bradley Davies returns to the second row, while Dan Baker is charged with anchoring the scrum at number eight.

Ulster Rugby vs. Ospreys
Saturday 1st October, 18:30
Kingspan Stadium
Guinness PRO12 - Round 5

Live on Sky Sports 5

15. Charles Piutau, 14. Craig Gilroy, 13. Jared Payne, 12. Darren Cave, 11. Louis Ludik, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Paul Marshall; 1. Kyle McCall, 2. Rory Best, 3. Rodney Ah You, 4. Alan O'Connor, 5. Franco van der Merwe (capt.), 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Sean Reidy, 8. Roger Wilson.

Replacements: 16. John Andrew, 17. Callum Black, 18. Ross Kane, 19. Kieran Treadwell, 20. Robbie Diack, 21. Ruan Pienaar, 22. Brett Herron, 23. Tommy Bowe.

15. Dan Evans, 14. Jeff Hassler, 13. Ben John, 12. Josh Matavesi, 11. Eli Walker, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Rhys Webb; 1. Nicky Smith, 2. Sam Parry, 3. Dmitri Arhip, 4. Bradley Davies, 5. Alun Wyn Jones (capt.), 6. James King, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Dan Baker.

Replacements: 16. Scott Baldwin, 17. Paul James, 18. Ma'afu Fia, 19. Rory Thornton, 20. Olly Cracknell, 21. Tyler Ardron, 22. Tom Habberfield, 23. Sam Davies.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 29th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (WRU), Paul Haycock (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Wigglesworth (IRFU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)[/tag]
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