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Friday Night Celtic League Preview

Friday Night Celtic League Preview

Neath are looking a good bet for Celtic League glory this year, but they face a tough road trip to Ulster this weekend. The All Blacks have been Wales’ most impressive team in the early part of the season, and are one of only four unbeaten teams in the Celtic League.

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They take on Ulster at Ravenhill looking to avenge last year’s 38-29 defeat in the Celtic League quarter-finals, and last weekend’s drubbing of Llanelli has given coach Lyn Jones a quiet confidence.

“Ulster present us with yet another big challenge, but our results in recent weeks have shown that we have the ability to go to Ireland and win,” he said.

“We had enough chances to beat Ulster last season, but we didn’t convert the
pressure into points. We can certainly do the job at Ravenhill.”

Jones has selected a predictable starting line-up, with Kevin James coming in for last weekend’s try-scorer Sean Marsden on the wing, Patrick Horgan replacing veteran Andy Moore at scrum-half and Andrew Millward stepping in for Adam Jones at tight-head prop. International backrower forward Brett Sinkinson is nearing fitness after a knee injury.

Ulster coach Alan Solomons has been hit by the double blow of an injury crisis and the loss of key players to Eddie O’Sullivan’s Ireland squad.

The biggest loss is talented young utility back Paddy Wallace, who is out with a broken ankle. Glasgow put their unbeaten record on the line when they take on a wounded Bridgend side at Hughenden.

The Brewery Field club were battered by Pontypridd last weekend, and New Zealand fly-half Simon Mannix (thigh) and backrower Maama Molitika (shoulder) have both been ruled out.

Glasgow flanker Andrew Wilson, 21, makes his first Celtic League start, replacing Donnie Macfadyen (hamstring). Andy Hall returns at lock at the expense of Jason White.

In the other Friday matches, unbeaten Munster host Swansea, Pontypridd should be too good for Borders at Sardis Road, while Connacht look to retain their perfect start to the tournament when they host a disappointing Newport side.

PONTYPRIDD v BORDERS (at Sardis Road, 7.05pm).

Pontypridd: (not yet available)

Borders: T Vili; N Walker, S Cranston, K Utterson, C Moir; G Townsend, G Armstrong (capt); P Thomson, S Scott, B Douglas, D Weir, R Metcalfe, C Feather, S Sititi, M Taylor.

Replacements: J Stuart, C Laidlaw, I Fairley, A Rennick, C Stewart, C Dunlea, S Gunn. Referee: D Tyndall (Ireland).

Out – Pontypridd: E Lewis (hamstring), S James (hamstring), P Edwards (released).Borders: S Longstaff (Groin), C Murray (shoulder), G Morton (shoulder), G Graham (calf), G Morton (shoulder).

Previous meetings: Pontypridd won 46-26 home and 23-16 away in the 1997/98 European Cup.

Form guide: Borders have yet to win a Celtic League match, being beaten by Connacht, Bridgend and Cardiff.

MUNSTER v SWANSEA (at Musgrave Park, Cork, 7.35pm).
Munster: J Staunton; M Lawlor, M Mullins, J Holland, D Crotty; K Keane, M Prendergast; S Kerr, F Sheahan, R Laffan, M Galwey, M O’Driscoll, E Halvey, D Leamy, J Williams (capt). Replacements: W O’Kelly, J Blaney, T Horgan, C
McMahon, D Malone, C Mahony, J O’Neill.

Swansea: S Payne; M Robinson, M Taylor, S Winn, G Henson; A Thomas, S Cordingley; D Morris, G Jenkins, B Evans, J Slade, J Griffiths, R Jenkins, C Charvis (capt), J Thomas.

Out –
Munster: D Wallace, A Horgan, P O’Connell, R O’Gara (ear).

Swansea: M Taylor (knee), C Wells (knee), G Jenkins (achilles), H Bennett (shoulder), S Gibbs (ankle), K Morgan (thigh).
Previous meetings: Munster 17 Swansea 13 in the 1995/96 European Cup.

Form guide: Munster have only lost twice in 12 Celtic League outings.
Swansea have yet to win in Ireland.

CONNACHT v NEWPORT RUGBY (at Sportsground, Galway, 5.45pm).
Connacht: J Norton; T Robinson, D Yapp, T Allnutt (capt), E Elwood, C Keane; D McFarland, J Flannery, P Bracken, W Waugh, R Frost, M Swift, J O’Sullivan, C Rigney.

Replacements: R McCormack, M Uijs, E Peters, J O’Connor, E Reddan, S Moore, M McPhail.

Newport: M Pini; M Mostyn, A Marinos, S Williams, A Cadwallader; S Howarth, O Tonu’u; R Snow, P Young, C Anthony, M Veater, S Raiwalui (capt), A Popham,
A Powell, G Gravell. Replacements: A Garvey, J Richards, M Voyle, J Forster, H Luscombe, M Hook, L Lane.

Out –
Connacht: G Duffy (ankle), J O’Connor (ankle).
Newport: J Jones-Hughes (knee), J Pritchard (broken foot bone), B Breeze (knee), I Gough (back), J Strange (groin strain), S Ojomoh (flu), C Jones (fractured cheekbone).

Previous Celtic League meeting: Newport 14 Connacht 16 (11/9/01).Newport also lost at home by 31-12 in the 1998/99 European Conference.

Form guide: Connacht have not lost to a Welsh club in the League, beating Cardiff (twice), Neath, Newport and Caerphilly.

ULSTER v NEATH (at Ravenhill Park, Belfast, 7.30pm).
Ulster: B Cunningham; J Topping, R Constable, J Bell (capt), T Howe; A Larkin, N Doak; J Fitzpatrick, M Sexton, R Kempson, M Blair, J Davidson, W Brosnihan, N McMillan, T McWhirter.

Replacements: S Best, P Shields, P Johns, N Best, K Campbell, S Stewart, S Young.

Neath: A Durston; K James, Bateman, D Tieuti, S Williams; L Jarvis, P Horgan; D Jones, B Williams, A Millward, A Newman, G Llewellyn (capt), H Jenkins, N Bonner-Evans, S Tandy.

Replacements: S Connor, S Jones, A Jones,
J Storey, L Bateman, A Mocelutu, A Moore.

Out –
Ulster: A Ward (ankle), S Coulter.

Neath: S Martin (appendictis), B Sinkinson (knee), J Leyshon (shoulder), A Matthews (knee).

Previous meetings: One win each.
Neath 15 Ulster 13 in the 1996/97 European Cup; Ulster 38 Neath 29 in last season’s Celtic League quarter-final.

Form guide: Neath are unbeaten in the League this season and face their hardest test since losing in Ulster last season.

GLASGOW RUGBY v BRIDGEND (at Hughenden, 7.30pm).
Glasgow: (not yet available)

Bridgend: M James; C Richards, D James, G Thomas (capt), R Mustoe; C Warlow, H Harries; C Horsman, G Williams, C Loader, D Jones, A Moore,R Bryan, S van Rensburg, J Ringer. Replacements: S Martens, J Funnell, A Carter, J Thiel, P Booth, O Lloyd, M Powell.

Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).

Out –
Glasgow: C Blades (foot),R Reid, B Irving.
Bridgend: S Taumalolo (knee), A Havili, A Joy (neck), S Mannix (thigh), M Molitika (shoulder), C Harris (knee).

Previous Celtic League meetings: Bridgend 50 Glasgow 15 (29/8/01).
Welsh/Scottish League wins: Bridgend 4-2 overall and by 3-0 at home.
Last season: Bridgend 50 Glasgow 15; Glasgow 21 Bridgend 16.

Form guide: Glasgow have never won at Bridgend, but they have won all three league games this season, including victories at Cardiff and Newport.

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