Ulster welcome Benetton Treviso to Kingspan Stadium looking for a fourth straight Guinness PRO12 bonus-point win to keep their play-off hopes alive and kicking.
What’s at stake?
A five-point victory over Treviso on Friday night will move Ulster level on points with Scarlets in fourth-place in the Guinness PRO12 table.
Playing on Friday night allows Ulster to put the pressure on Scarlets, who don’t play Leinster until Saturday evening, while Treviso will be looking to pull further away from Italian rivals Zebre.
Ulster team news: Les Kiss is able to welcome back three Ireland internationals, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Jared Payne, into his back line for the visit of Treviso.
Gilroy starts at full-back for the first time this season while Trimble joins Charles Piutau on the wing and Payne starts at outside centre.
Marcell Coetzee also returns to the starting XV after missing the trip to Zebre last weekend due to illness with Rob Herring captaining the side from hooker.
Benetton Treviso team news: Coach Kieran Crowley makes just a single change to the XV beaten by Connacht last weekend with Angelo Esposito coming in on the wing.
Michael Tagicakibau moves from the wing to inside centre with Alberto Sgarbi dropping to the bench for the trip to Ireland.
Kiss has prepared for all potential tactics from the Italians but wasn’t getting carried away by Payne’s return to the Ireland squad this week.
He said: “(Payne) came through with no issues on the weekend, but it is just baby steps to see how he went last week and he is available for us.
“Well, we did have a chat about (Italy’s tactics against England) and I wouldn’t say that they’re likely to bring it but they could.
“It’s an interesting tactic and you always talk about what would happen. We’ve had a discussion about it for sure and we might try it on them.”
Key battle: Craig Gilroy v Luca Sperandio
Uncapped Luca Sperandio has just been called up by Conor O’Shea to his 31-man squad to face France and Scotland in the RBS 6 Nations so will have a point to prove.
And he comes up against a fellow flyer in Gilroy who scored a hat-trick of tries against Italy in Rome during the Championship.
Sperandio is just 21 years old and will be desperate to celebrate his international call-up with a strong performance but will have his work cut out to keep Gilroy quiet.
Key stat: Ulster have never achieved four bonus point victories in a row in the Guinness PRO12, something they can achieve this weekend.
Did you know? Ulster have lost just once at home in the Guinness PRO12 in the past twelve months, a 15-14 defeat to Munster in October while Benetton Treviso have not won since beating Zebre on 23 December.
Ulster – Top points scorer: Ruan Pienaar 72 Top try scorer: Jacob Stockdale 7
Benetton Treviso – Top points scorer: Tommaso Allan 66pts Top try scorer: Dean Budd 4
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 13, Ulster won 11, Treviso won 1 with 1 game drawn.
At Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm Live on BBC Sport NI and Eurosport Italy
Referee: Dan Jones (WRU, 6th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Simon Rees (WRU), Dermot Blake (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Wayne Sheridan (IRFU)
TMO: Neil Hennessy (WRU)
Ulster continued their pursuit of a Guinness PRO12 top-four finish as they saw off a determined Benetton Treviso in appalling conditions but were left frustrated after missing out on a crucial bonus-point.
Tries from Jared Payne, Sean Reidy and Charles Piutau set up the win for the Irish side but despite dominating possession and territory for the most part they couldn’t find the all-important fourth try.
Ulster had never achieved four bonus-point victories in a row in the Guinness PRO12, and despite pre-match predictions of a comfortable home win, driving rain and standing water proved a levelling factor.
Kicking dominated the opening exchanges as the weather prevented slick handling but the Irish side dug deep to claim a victory over Treviso and move to within striking distance of the Scarlets in fourth-place in the Guinness PRO12 table.
In pouring rain, Treviso had the first opportunity to trouble the scoreboard but Tito Tebaldi missed his effort at goal after just two minutes.
Ulster boss Les Kiss was able to welcome back three Ireland internationals, Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Payne, into his back line and the injection of class told against Treviso.
After a scrappy start to the game, it was Ulster who finally got their noses in front on the scoreboard.
A touch of class from Payne saw the Irish side touch down for the game’s first try after 20 minutes; following a set piece move from the scrum and veteran scrum half Ruan Pienaar added the extras.
Ulster dominated territory as the half wore on but difficult conditions meant the Irish team struggled to find a gap in the Italian defence.
After a period of sustained pressure, Ulster should have scored in the final few minutes of the first half but with the try-line gaping, Marcell Coetzee knocked on just two metres out from the Treviso line.
After the break, Treviso were reduced to 14 men on 46 minutes; Italian international Francesco Minto was sin-binned for a mistimed tackle just five metres short of the Italian line.
Ulster opted for the scrum, armed with the numerical advantage but made a mess of their drive and eventually saw a penalty given against them after Tebaldi was able to get in and disrupt the attack.
Ulster’s superior territory was finally rewarded on 52 minutes though, with Reidy diving over for his sixth score of the season.
The try was made possible following a powerful break from Payne in midfield, while the elusive Pienaar was held up just inches short of the line seconds later, before Reidy eventually picked up and went over. South African Pienaar added the extras with a straightforward kick at goal.
Ulster extended their lead further just before the hour mark as the prolific Piutau collected a kick through from centre Stuart Olding to score in the corner.
The effort was referred to the TMO but it was adjudged Piutau had just kept himself in play; unfortunately Pienaar was unable to add the extras on this occasion.
Treviso ensured they would not end the evening empty-handed as Teofilo Paulo was the beneficiary of a series of close range drives to score a try in front of the posts, diving over a pile of bodies, with Ian McKinley adding the conversion to make the score 19-7.
Ulster desperately tried to score their fourth score of the evening in the final few minutes but stubborn Treviso defence denied the home side.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final