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Scarlets v Ulster Rugby: The inside track on match

Our rugby man Michael Sadlier tackles all the battles in today's game both on and off the field.

Rhys Priestland v Ian Humphreys 

So much will hinge on how both out-halves function, with the good form Humphreys has so far showed on his return to Ulster from London Irish being encouraging but, as yet, not tested in a competitive game environment.

Much of what Ulster need to bring to the Scarlets will be played through Humphreys and his place-kicking will also have to be on the money as the visitors will need to be able to register points from the tee.

He does have the solid Stuart Olding outside him should Humphreys find things aren't going to his liking, but the latter's experience really should show here in what will be a tricky opening assignment.

Priestland needs little introduction and the Wales international is bound to have a significant input as the Scarlets go in search of a result to back up the growing belief that this could be a season which results in a top four finish and may see them claim the Welsh qualification place for the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Regan King v Jared Payne

This is definitely Jared Payne's time to put his abilities at outside centre on full display as, well, there might just be a green jersey awaiting him in the very near future.

More immediately, though, he has to perform for Ulster in the position which clearly seems to be the favoured one now while togging out for his club.

Though all are not entirely convinced of his defensive strengths at 13, he definitely has got what it takes to find space as well as creating it for others – ideal attributes for the position.

Payne's creativity is a great asset for Ulster and he will have to be closely involved if the visitors are going to get the better of the west Wales outfit.

Up against him is fellow Kiwi Regan King who is on a second coming to the Scarlets after three seasons at Clermont.

At 33, King's finest days are clearly behind him but the one-time capped All Black is hugely experienced and his physicality will ask questions of Payne.

Rhodri Jones v Callum Black

Quite a lot has been made of how Ulster may be lacking a bit of bulk and experience in this season's front five and the Scarlets' pack will certainly be putting that theory to the test today.

Black, though, is a decent operator at the set-piece and after making the Emerging Ireland tour over the summer he will be extremely keen to stay on the expanded national squad's radar.

This, though, will be a stern test against Wales international Jones, a former loose-head who has been converted to shunt over to the other side of the scrum and take on all the differences in technique required for the position.

Discipline has been a problem for the 22-year-old – his coach Wayne Pivac making it clear that stepping out of line will not be tolerated – and this is one area where Black will want to explore by trying to frustrate his strong-scrummaging opposite number.

The main threats

Where do you start to sort this one out?

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has selected a notably strong side with 12 internationals in his starting team.

They also managed to beat David Humphreys' Gloucester last week which though it was only a friendly has, nevertheless, added fuel to the growing notion that the Scarlets are beginning to head in the right direction.

Up front they are powerful with Phil John anchoring the front row and South African second row Johan Snyman will doubtless be getting re-acquainted with Franco van der Merwe.

In the back row they have powerful number eight Rory Pitman who lifted the man of the match award in last week's win over Gloucester and the hugely experienced John Barclay.

They also have power in the backline through Regan King and Scott Williams, while Rhys Priestland has the game management to cause Ulster much concern.

Team tactics

Ulster showed the strength of their defensive work in the narrow friendly win over Leinster last weekend.

And, with interim coach Les Kiss and Jonny Bell now combining their vast expertise in this area, it was perhaps hardly surprising that the visitors were able to frustrate wave after wave of late attacking from the men in blue.

This will certainly be put to the test again at the Scarlets who will be extremely keen to put their attacking talents on show in front of their home crowd.

But Ulster are more than just an efficient defensive unit and with a multiple array of talent behind the scrum, they will be itching to unleash their backline at Parc y Scarlets where the form of out-half Ian Humphreys will be critical.

But it's all very well having attacking options to burn, winning the battle up front is where it will all be decided and Ulster's front five will come under intense scrutiny.

 

Belfast Telegraph

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