Jonathan Bradley examines where today’s big Pro12 game against Glasgow Warriors will be won or lost.
Andrew Trimble v Tommy Seymour
Both men scored two tries in bonus point wins last week with Trimble’s late touchdown earning Ulster a bonus point against Edinburgh. It was the Irish international’s fourth score this season in only 280 minutes of action. Former Ulster winger Seymour’s brace against Treviso took his tally for the season to three.
With Sean Maitland expected to be rusty after injury, Seymour will be expected to offer Glasgow’s most tangible wide threat but he will also be aware of the need for a strong defensive effort up against his old teammate. Seymour’s fellow Scottish international Tim Visser’s tackling was not up to scratch when Edinburgh visited last weekend and he was punished ruthlessly by Trimble, especially for the game’s first try. Trimble’s own work without the ball can rarely be criticised and he will be expecting to limit Seymour’s opportunities.
Nick Williams v Josh Strauss
Captaining Glasgow this evening in the absence of Al Kellock will be their number 8 Josh Strauss.
The 27-year-old, who also led the Lions during his time in Super Rugby, has put in a series of barnstorming performances so far this term. Already a try-scorer against both Newport Gwent Dragons and Leinster, Ulster will need to be tight in their defence. Williams has also scored twice this season, against Zebre and Edinburgh, and is restored to the starting line-up for this game. Arguably his two best performances of the year have came from the bench so the Kiwi will be keen to refute the idea he is best deployed as an impact sub.
Andrew Warwick v Euan Murray
The contrast in experience could hardly be more stark between Ulster loosehead Warwick and Glasgow tighthead Murray but this promises to be a highly intriguing battle.
Another impressive performance off the bench against Edinburgh last week strengthened Warwick’s case to fill the number one jersey over the next crucial month. With Leicester and Toulon to come after today, lesser youngsters may be intimidated but the 23-year-old Ballymena man has proven to be impervious to reputation and Ulster will be hoping that continues against Murray.
Selected as a 2009 Lion, although he missed the trip to South Africa, the one-time Northampton Saint has amassed 60 caps for Scotland since his debut in 2005. The 34-year-old was picked up by Gregor Townsend during the off-season and, as a notable scrummager, he will be expected to be a real asset in the set-piece.
As well as having an extra decade of professional rugby experience, Murray is almost a stone heavier, tipping the scales at 18st 8lbs compared to Warwick’s 17st 9lbs.
The main threats
Having crossed the whitewash 21 times this season, Glasgow Warriors are leading the league in tries through five rounds of fixtures and have players capable of punishing Ulster all over the pitch.
After holding Edinburgh pointless a week ago, Director of Rugby Les Kiss and defence coach Johnny Bell know that Glasgow are a different proposition altogether and will have had many a conversation this week about the best way to contain a side held to under 30 points only once this season.
Tommy Seymour scored twice against Treviso last week while, even with the likes of DTH van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg absent, they can call on Sean Maitland to make his first appearance of the season and Sean Lamont will be a danger off the bench.
An important battle between two of the strongest sides in the league, Ulster will feel that this would be an opportune time for their own much-heralded backline to provide the incision expected from such a talented unit.
Andrew Trimble aside, Ulster backs have dotted down on only three occasions this season but, with Tommy Bowe still working his way back up to speed, expect to see the Ireland wing open his account sooner rather than later.
Over the last two seasons Glasgow have played some of the most exciting rugby in the Pro12 and their attack has been the envy of the entire league ever since Joe Schmidt and Johnny Sexton departed Leinster in 2013.
The varied method of Glasgow’s play will keep Ulster on their toes with an array of talented backs and ball-carrying potential in their backrow.
Ulster are hardly sub-standard in this regard but, given what they will have seen in Glasgow’s contests with the likes of Cardiff, they may attempt to take them on up front with a front row of Andrew Warwick, Rory Best and Wiehahn Herbst that has scrummaged with an impressive intensity so far this season..
If the pack can provide that solid base then Ulster will need their familiar half-back pairing of Paul Marshall and Ian Humphreys to stay in control of proceedings.
Stat attack: Last season Ulster won three of their four Pro12 games that directly preceded a round of European competition.
The only loss came away at Cardiff Blues the week before the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Sara
A little bit of previous...
Ulster’s last six results:
Ulster 30 Edinburgh 0*
Zebre 13 Ulster 6*
Cardiff 9 Ulster 26*
Ulster 33 Zebre 13*
Scarlets 32 Ulster 32*
Leinster 7 Ulster 10**
Glasgow’s last six results:
Treviso 23 Glasgow 40*
Glasgow 39 Connacht 21*
NG Dragons 13 Glasgow 33*
Cardiff 12 Glasgow 33*
Glasgow 22 Leinster 20*
L Scottish 19 Glasgow 38**