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Neil Doak's Ulster boys must batter down doors of fortress Scotstoun

By Michael Sadlier

Published 22/05/2015

Back on the ball: Ruan Pienaar is one of the high-profile stars among 11 players recalled to Ulster’s starting line-up
Back on the ball: Ruan Pienaar is one of the high-profile stars among 11 players recalled to Ulster’s starting line-up

And so it all comes down to this week's re-match.

Win and the Kingspan Stadium final awaits, lose and, well, it's over for another season. All week, the statistics have been given their airing what with no visiting side having won before at this stage and Glasgow's resolute home record in the PRO12 which now stretches to 19 matches.

And Ulster's last two visits to Scotstoun don't really make comfortable reading either with them falling to a heavy 27-9 reverse last season and then the shadow side's 32-10 beating from just six days ago.

Yes, but this is an entirely different prospect, a one-off encounter with the spoils - namely next week's shot at taking the title - only coming to those who hold their nerve to take ownership of, what is for both, another go at a PRO12 play-off.

And that's been the message from Ulster. What that has gone before has no bearing on the here and now while Neil Doak's squad are also pretty content with coming into this one somewhat under the radar when it comes to their chances of upsetting the odds.

Though few have bought into the theory that Glasgow will run up the sort of score they did last Saturday, the Scots have put it out there that they reckon a largely fully-loaded Ulster will completely alter the way this back-to-back affair pans out.

It was hardly a shock when Neil Doak made 11 changes to his starting side from last weekend with all the big names - including Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne and the in-form Craig Gilroy - all ready to go from the off.

Unfortunately, though, it wasn't a completely clean bill of health and second row Franco van der Merwe is missing with the South African's lower leg injury having ended his season last Saturday.

So, only three players are retained from that defeat with Chris Henry, Louis Ludik and Ricky Lutton getting the nod to go again with the latter call the most interesting as Bronson Ross remains benched despite Lutton's serious lack of game-time.

The hard-grafting Lewis Stevenson gets another start for the missing Van der Merwe and, other than that, the visitors appear to be in good nick.

Their scrum should be solid enough, with Best on board, but the lineout, and its chief weapon the driving maul, will have to function efficiently with Dan Tuohy and Iain Henderson taking on more through Van der Merwe's loss.

Glasgow's back row, though, pose a very significant threat. Henry, Henderson and Roger Wilson will have to nullify the work of Josh Strauss and co at the breakdown while, generally, Ulster know only too well that they just must keep their discipline.

However, Ulster do have the edge at half-back where hopefully Pienaar will be able to do more than against Munster though the key to what Ulster intend to bring to the party will be how Jackson sets up their attacking platform and if, as assumed, he takes the shots at goal again.

Some of the work performed with ball in hand in the draw with Munster was top-drawer stuff and could have achieved so much more had the imaginative passing gone to hand.

The midfield and back three battle has an epic look to it. Bowe's match-up with Niko Matawalu looks very tasty while Craig Gilroy and Glasgow's Tommy Seymour and the ever-dangerous Stuart Hogg all will want plenty of chances to run and should get it too with the weather likely to be more benign than last week.

As ever, the benches could play a key role in this and the Warriors have the stronger of the two with Duncan Weir, Sean Lamont, the dangerous DTH van der Merwe and Ryan Wilson all on board.

Belfast Telegraph

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