Rugby’s festive season is upon us and Ulster will begin December hosting the Cardiff Blues. Four of Ulster’s Irish stars return to the starting 15 from international duty to complete a strong looking lineup.
Former Ulster player Nick Williams returns to his old stomping ground where he enjoyed a successful spell. Ulster will know what physicality the Kiwi can bring to the game and must match his intensity.
Without their international stars, a young Ulster team had the difficult task of taking on the Scarlets in Llanelli.
After a promising start, they were convincingly beaten 29-12 where they failed to pick up a bonus point.
Ulster’s best performances this year have all come at home and they will hope to take some form into European competition next week.
On the other hand, Cardiff was away to Glasgow. Like Ulster, they suffered a heavy defeat. Domestically, Cardiff has lost five of their nine games and Ulster must see this as an opportunity to pick up 5 match points.
Cardiff is without their captain, and talisman, Ellis Jenkins. The in-form flanker suffered a knee injury on international duty. Ulster will hope to take advantage of his absence.
The 24-year-old has had a mixed start to his Ulster career. As we head into a busy festive period, Ulster needs Burns to recapture his best form and control the game.
The fly-half has talented outside backs at his disposal and if the forwards can give him front foot ball I expect a big performance from the 10.
Ulster will have to nullify one of Cardiff’s marquee signings from this summer – Samu Manao. The American is no stranger to his opposition facing Ireland last week in Dublin. The Ulster players involved in the Ireland squad will relay to their teammates the threat he posses.
Manoa is an extremely physical operator with a big presence in both defence and attack. It will be his first appearance from the start for Cardiff and he will be desperate to show what he can do.
McFarland has made his intentions clear naming a strong side with strong options to come off the bench too. He has Best and Stockdale to call upon if there are any early injuries or he wants to change the game.
Cardiff are a different animal at home notching up impressive wins including taking Munster apart.
That said, they have struggled to replicate their home form on their travels and Ulster should have too much this week.