It’s the game Ulster fans have been waiting for since his arrival in the summer, but Marcell Coetzee will finally make his debut against Edinburgh Rugby under Friday Night Lights.
The Ulstermen will be hoping the South African can soon turn their fortunes around following a spell of modest form, with hopes of getting their season back on track on home soil.
But, barring defeat last Friday, Edinburgh are enjoying a fine start to the year, and won’t hand opportunities at leisure to their hosts.
What’s at stake?
Ulster Rugby are looking to reverse a poor trend of results which has seen them pick up just one win across all competitions in their last six games, while visitors Edinburgh are looking to complete their first double over the province since the 2007/08 season.
Edinburgh themselves are looking for a quick return to winning ways, having narrowly missed out on victory against Munster last weekend – their first defeat since Boxing Day.
But Ulster have the upper hand when it comes to clashes between these two sides, having won the last three meetings, a run they will be looking to continue into 2017.
Team news (Ulster)
Friday’s game will mark the long-awaited debut of Coetzee, who will start at No. 8 for his new side.
It will also see the comeback of Peter Nelson for his first appearance in 15 months, while Stuart Olding also returns from injury and will start at fly-half.
John Andrew will make only his third senior start after being selected at hooker, while Sean Reidy is in line to make his 50th appearance for the province after being named among the replacements.
Team news (Edinburgh)
Acting head coach Duncan Hodge has made just one change to his starting XV for their visit to Belfast.
Fijian back row Viliame Mata will make his first Guinness PRO12 start since Edinburgh’s 28-17 victory over the Ulstermen in November, in an otherwise unchanged team from last week’s narrow defeat to Munster.
All eyes will be on Coetzee as the Springbok makes his first appearance for the province, having been injured since his arrival at the Kingspan in the summer.
“It’s like a new signing,” said Kiss. “Marcell’s enthusiasm has been fantastic and his approach to training and preparation is first class.
“He is champing at the bit and he certainly has an infectiousness nature about him, he is enthusiastic and he is gunning to go.”
It’s the clash of the No. 8s as debutant Coetzee goes head-to-head with Edinburgh’s top try scorer Magnus Bradbury, but the young Scot faces a stiff challenge in the form of his opposite number.
Of the 28 meetings between the two sides, Ulster have been victorious on 18 occasions, with Edinburgh having won 10
Did you know?
Edinburgh beat Ulster 28-17 at BT Murrayfield in round eight of the Guinness PRO12 and have only once before achieved a season’s double over the Irish province, coming in 2007/08.
Top points scorer: 65 – Paddy Jackson
Top try scorer: 3 – Rob Lyttle, Jacob Stockdale, Charles Piutau
Top points scorer: 69 – Duncan Weir
Top try scorer: 4 – Magnus Bradbury
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 28, Ulster won 18, Edinburgh won 10.
At Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm Live on BBC Sport NI
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU, 145th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies (WRU) Dermot Thomas (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)
TMO: Paul Adams (WRU)
Ulster ran in four first-half tries to down Edinburgh Rugby 24-18 despite a spirited second half comeback at the Kingspan Stadium.
The back three of Charles Piutau, Jacob Stockdale and Louis Ludik combined to open up the Edinburgh defence after Magnus Bradbury had powered over for the visitors’ opener.
Stockdale secured the try bonus point before half-time but Edinburgh hit back with a slick score from Damien Hoyland and a late penalty but the damage had been done in the first 40.
The visitors gain a losing bonus point and will rue three missed conversions from fly-half Jason Tovey.
Edinburgh started the quicker with No.8 Bradbury scoring the game’s first try early in the first half, touching down in the corner after several attacking phases.
Ulster gained good field position when the home side were penalised for a high tackle, Paul Marshall snuck over the line under the posts to put Ulster ahead.
Centre Darren Cave touched down minutes later before the scintillating Piutau broke two tackles to offload to full-back Ludik who dive over in the corner.
Stockdale then secured the bonus point before the break as Ulster threatened to run away with it.
But, the visitors managed to respond before the break through hooker Stuart McInally who was on the end of a powerful Edinburgh driving maul to make the score 24-10 at the interval.
Les Kiss will be concerned by the sight of Piutau limping off in the second half after colliding with Edinburgh’s Tom Brown.
The visitors got themselves back into the game midway through the second half after some slick handling from centre Chris Dean released Hoyland to touch down in the corner. Fly-half Tovey failed to convert.
Replacement Sam Hidalgo-Clyne took over kicking duties and landed a long-range penalty to put the visitors within a score 15 minutes from time.
As the players tired, the game began to open up and Edinburgh conceded late penalties on the halfway line to continually lose ground to the home side.
Two minutes from time, Edinburgh winger Brown latched onto a bouncing ball and his side gained 70 metres, threatening the Ulster line only to be penalised.
Ulster held out for a bonus point victory, maintain pressure on the top four, despite not scoring in the second half.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €30 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final
09 Feb 2017