Ulster switch focus back to URC after perfect European run

Northern province missing internationals but looking to end two-match URC skid

URC: Ulster vs Scarlets, Friday 28th January, Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports)

After all the excitement of Europe, Ulster get back to the nitty-gritty of the URC on Friday evening when an injury-hit and Six Nations-diluted northern province take on a similarly afflicted Scarlets side.

Having lost their last two URC outings - away to Munster and the Ospreys - Dan McFarland will be hoping the side he is putting out can replicate the form they have shown in making through to Europe’s last 16 as second seeds.

Avoiding any slippage down the league table is the priority now after shipping three defeats in eight games and with a more crowded than anticipated Six Nations period thanks to the postponed interpros with Connacht and Leinster bolted into a now five match segment.

As things stand, McFarland’s selection is bolstered by a strong-looking pack with only Rob Herring and Nick Timoney and the injured Iain Henderson otherwise engaged with Andy Farrell.

Duane Vermeulen, Marty Moore and Alan O’Connor provide the cornerstone of Ulster’s eight with Marcus Rea, Eric O’Sullivan and Greg Jones all on board while, at hooker, John Andrew is handed his first start of the season which means that released Wales squad member, and soon to be Dragon, Brad Roberts warms the bench.

Thanks to injuries and call-ups, McFarland’s main concerns this week ahead of taking on former Ulster backs coach Dwayne Peel’s side surrounded the make-up of his backline and, here, centre Ben Moxham starts alongside Angus Curtis.

Ethan McIlroy switches to fullback allowing Craig Gilroy and Rob Lyttle to fill the wing slots.

There is at least some continuity behind the scrum as Nathan Doak and Billy Burns are at halfback.

Meanwhile, Gilroy, Jones, Marcus Rea and Jack McGrath have all signed new contracts with Ulster.

Ulster: E McIlroy; C Gilroy, B Moxham, A Curtis, R Lyttle; B Burns, N Doak; E O'Sullivan, J Andrew, M Moore; A O'Connor (capt), S Carter; G Jones, Marcus Rea, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: B Roberts, J McGrath, G Milasinovich, M Kearney, D McCann, D Shanahan, I Madigan, A Sexton.

Scarlets: I Nicholas; T Rogers, T Morgan, S Hughes, R Conbeer; D Jones, D Blacker; S Thomas, D Hughes (capt), S Lee; S Lousi, M Jones; S Kalamafoni, Shaun Evans, C Tuipulotu.

Replacements: M Jones, K Mathias, J Sebastian, J Helps, A Shingler, K Hardy, S Costelow, Steff Evans.

Referee: J Pyper (South Africa)

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