Ulster eye top of the table
September 16, 2010
Edinburgh face another Irish side following their defeat to Munster © PA Photos
Ulster entertain Edinburgh in the Magners League on Friday evening as they look to maintain their perfect start to the season.
Brian McLaughlin's side currently sit second in the table behind leader Munster following successive victories over Ospreys and Aironi. However, their prospects of continuing that run could be put in jeopardy by four changes to their backline for the clash with Edinburgh.
Andrew Trimble returns from injury but Paddy Wallace is rested as part of the IRFU player management programme, while Jamie Smith replaces Adam D'Arcy at fullback, Paul Emerick comes on to the wing and Ian Whitten partners Darren Cave in the centre.
For Edinburgh, Craig Hamilton comes into the second row in place of Esteban Lozada, who has resumed light training after receiving a blow to the head in last Friday's fixture, and Roddy Grant returns to the backrow and captains the side.
Elsewhere on Friday, third-placed Connacht travel up to Scotland to put their promising start to the season to the test against Glasgow at Firhilll Stadium. Connacht lead a band of four clubs on six points, two behind Ulster.
Connacht make just one change following their narrow loss to Scarlets last weekend. Andrew Browne makes his return from injury and replaces Dave Nolan on the bench, while Ray Ofisa, Niva Ta'auso and Bernie Upton all passed fitness tests. Flanker Robert Harley, who has impressed off the bench in recent weeks, gets his first start of the season in the backrow for Glasgow.
Meanwhile, the Scarlets host bottom-placed Aironi at Parc Y Scarlets in Friday's other game. Boosted by their thrilling bonus-point 35-33 win against Connacht, Scarlets head coach Nigel Davies welcomes back some key personnel. Second-row Dominic Day returns along with scrum-half Tavis Knoyle, captain No.8 David Lyons and Rhys Priestland.
Aironi's defeat to Ulster came with a heavy cost with the loss of South African centre Dylan Des Fountain for the season as well as Roberto Quartaroli. Consequently, Aironi make three changes to their starting line-up with Gabriel Pizarro and Gilberto Pavan coming into the midfield and South African winger Danwel Demas making his first appearance, replacing Giulio Toniolatti.
Leinster travel to the Stadio di Monigo on Saturday to take on Benetton Treviso following the Irish side's 34-23 defeat of Cardiff Blues last weekend.
The upbeat mood in the Leinster camp is boosted further by the appearance on the teamsheet of Gordon D'Arcy, Rob Kearney and Eoin Reddan for the first time this season in a backline that includes Isa Nacewa, who scored 19 points in the win against Cardiff. Cian Healy comes into the front row to partner John Fogarty and Mike Ross, while Rhys Ruddock forms a backrow partnership with Sean O'Brien and skipper Shane Jennings.
As for the hosts, they are able to call upon the services of Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, who will lead the side in the absence of injured club captain Antonio Pavanello. Ghiraldini will be joined in the pack by Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, Lorenzo Cittadini, Valerio Bernabo and Manoa Vosawai. Fit-again Italian international Franco Sbaraglini has been included amongst the replacements. Behind the scrum, meanwhile, there is a debut for former Bath winger Joe Maddock and his inclusion sees Tommaso Benvenuti switch to the centre and Ezio Galon drop out.
The Ospreys have the daunting prospect of a trip to Thomond Park to face a Munster side protecting their perfect record and seat at the summit of the Magner league table.
Munster suggested that ability to win tight games has not diminished with a narrow 16-13 victory over Edinburgh, although the Ospreys confidence will have been bolstered by their first win of the season against Benetton Treviso.
In terms of team news, the home side will be led by Alan Quinlan, who will be making his 200th appearance for Munster, meaning he is now just one cap shy of Anthony Foley's all-time record. Elsewhere, Tomas O'Leary reclaims the No.9 jersey from Peter Stringer, while Marcus Horan, Denis Fogarty, John Hayes and Donncha O'Callaghan all come into the pack.
Lock Alun Wyn Jones returns to skipper the Ospreys, while Tommy Bowe will start at outside centre for the Ospreys, with Gareth Owen the man to make away for the Ireland international. The only other changes to the side which defeated Treviso see Paul James and Craig Mitchell recalled to the front row.
In the all-Welsh clash at Cardiff City Stadium, the Cardiff Blues entertain the Dragons. The visitors have been decimated by injuries in the run-in to the game but they were, at least, boosted by Thursday's news that Aled Brew and Scott Morgan had escaped sanction after being cited following last weekend's win over the Glasgow Warriors.
Nonetheless, head coach Paul Turner has been forced into several changes to the side which lined out at Rodney Parade against the Scots, one of which sees Will Harries drafted in for what will be only his second ever start at fullback. In addition, Dragons player-coach Shaun Connor has been named amongst the replacements to provide cover for Matthew Jones, who starts at fly-half in the absence of the injured Jason Tovey. Centre Pat Leach, who made his Dragons debut against Glasgow, misses out with an ankle problem.
The Blues, meanwhile, welcome back forwards Paul Tito, who will captain the side, Martyn Williams, Maama Molitika and Gethin Jenkins. Behind the scrum, Ben Blair comes in for his first start of the season at fullback, while Ceri Sweeney takes over at fly-half from Dan Parks, who drops to the bench.
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