Scarlets’ coach Wayne Pivac has warned his side that they must minimise the impact of the Guinness PRO12’s best player in Ulster’s Charles Piutau this weekend.
The Kiwi coach worked alongside Piutau, who missed the last game with a thumb injury, at Auckland Blues and is fully aware of what his side will be coming up against at the Kingspan Stadium.
Ulster have lost just once on their home turf since early January but that was a 21-20 defeat to the Scarlets something that Pivac admits will be a boost to his side.
“I think Ulster will be up there because they have a very good coach in Les Kiss and the best player in the competition in Charles Piutau.” Pivac told the South Wales Evening Post.
“He is a confident player, very strong with ball in hand, strong in the contact area, strong under the high ball, can step off either foot, has great acceleration and he can kick the ball a mile off his left foot so he brings quite a lot.
“He is a complete player really. A player like that can also put a couple of thousand bums on seat.
“Ulster are a very good side and we respect them, but we will take confidence out of the fact that we had a great performance there last year so we know that within this group of players it can be done.”
In contrast to the Scarlets defeats to Munster and Edinburgh so far this season, Ulster have nine points from a possible ten after successes over Newport Gwent Dragons and Benetton Treviso.
The last time the Ulstermen started a Guinness PRO12 campaign with three straight victories was in 2012/13, where they did not lose their first match until round 12.
And Ulster assistant coach Allen Clarke is expecting a tough battle on Friday night as Scarlets go in search of their first victory of the season.
“They will be a wounded animal, in their games so far this season, they’ve had lots of possession and opportunities,” he told the Irish News.
“They can play with width, they’ve got the physicality up front and through the middle with their back unit. We’ve got to deal with their threats.
“This is a game we lost last season, but a win this time could put us in a really positive position, mentally and in the table.”
Ulster: Piutau, Gilroy, Olding, McCloskey, Ludik, Jackson, Pienaar, Black, Herring, Ah You, Browne, O’Connor, Ross, Reidy, Diack
Replacements: Andrew, Warwick, Kane, Van der Merwe, Henderson, Lloyd, Marshall, Lyttle
Scarlets: Thomas, L Williams, Jon Davies, Parkes, Evans, Patchell, G Davies, Jones, Owens, Kruger, Ball, Bulbring, Rawlins, James Davies, Barclay
Replacements: Elias, Garrett, Edwards, Beirne, Boyde, A Davies, S Williams, Hughes
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Ulster won 14, Scarlets won 11 and 2 games drawn.
At Kingspan Stadium, 7:05pm. Live on BBC Sport NI/BBC Wales
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (WRU, 27th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Cammy Rudkin (SRU), Shane Kierans (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)
TMO: Charles Samson (SRU)
Louis Ludik and Iain Henderson grabbed the tries as Ulster beat Scarlets 19-8 on Friday night at the Kingspan Stadium to move top of the Guinness PRO12 standings.
The men from Belfast have now won three from three to kick off the new campaign – the first time they have done that since the 2013/13 season.
By contrast the Scarlets have now slipped to three defeats on the spin to kick off the new campaign but they can take plenty of credit from a resilient defensive display in Belfast.
Ludik’s first-half score after a fine team counter attack opened out a lead that Paddy Jackson added to with two first-half penalties.
But Liam Williams produced an astonishing try saving tackle on Craig Gilroy in the first half while in the second Ulster were time and again rebuffed on the try-line by fine team defence.
A third penalty from Jackson meant victory looked fairly certain for the hosts but Rhys Patchell kicked one of his own before Will Boyde burrowed over in the right corner for the visitors.
That looked like it had secured a losing bonus point for Scarlets – their first point of the season – but in the final play of the game replacement Henderson smashed his way over from close range after a driving maul to deny them.
The game started brightly with both sides showing characteristic ambition with ball in hand on a clear evening.
It was the visitors who spurned the first chance for points – Patchell pulling a fifth-minute penalty horribly wide.
And Jackson showed him how it was down moments later and the hosts were in front and starting to settle – Stuart Olding and Charles Piutau looking dangerous with ball in hand and Jackson kicking from hand with great accuracy.
A second Jackson penalty – the Ulster scrum getting some early dominance – doubled the lead to 6-0. And in the 20th minute the dominant hosts grabbed the game’s first try with a fantastic counter attack.
Jonathan Davies’ clearing kick was fielded by Gilroy but spread left immediately and first Olding and then Stuart McCloskey made inroads to put Ludik over for a superb score.
Jackson missed with the conversion and at 11-0 the Scarlets were still in contention.
An absolutely magnificent covering tackle from Liam Williams then denied Gilroy a second Ulster try after another Ludik break and the Welsh region were barely hanging on.
Jake Ball didn’t make life much easier for the visitors when his continued ill-discipline earned him a yellow card but at the interval they were still in touch only 11 points down.
Les Kiss will have told his Ulster side to be more clinical with their chances in the second half to put the game to bed but twice Piutau and Ludik failed to link up with the try line gaping.
And the Scarlets – now restored to their full complement after Ball’s return – made them pay soon after as Patchell kicked the Scarlets’ first points of the game to trim the lead to 11-3.
Scott Williams was then introduced for the away side but Ulster continued to dictate affairs – Gilroy and Ruan Pienaar both denied from short range by fantastic last-ditch defence from the visitors.
The hour mark came and went and still Ulster battered against an unbreakable Welsh wall.
And the visitors then wasted a golden chance to bring themselves right back into the game, Steff Evans and Scott Williams combined to put Aled Davies clear but the replacement scrum-half opted to pass when he should have just gone for the line and Piutau gambled correctly to pick off the pass and race up the other end.
Ulster then opted for a late kick at the posts from Jackson to make it 14-3 and effectively seal the win.
But the visitors fought hard for a losing bonus point and they looked to have got it when Boyde collected Scott Williams’ pass on the overlap down the right to score only the region’s second try of the season.
But Henderson denied them with the last play of the game to move Ulster top of the standings.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final
19 Sep 2016
13 Sep 2016