Paddy Jackson returns to Ulster side for game with Scarlets
PADDY JACKSON will return to the Ulster line-up for Friday night's PRO12 clash with the Scarlets at the Kingspan Stadium and his Irish international team-mate Craig Gilroy also looks certain to feature.
Jackson is set to make his first appearance of the season for the province after completing his return to play protocols following Ireland's summer test series in South Africa. Gilroy came through a training session unscathed on Tuesday after sitting out last Saturday's 22-11 win over Treviso as he recovered from concussion.
All Black Charles Piutau will also return to the side, having missed the trip to Italy with a minor thumb injury sustained in training last week: "There will be one or two other Ireland guys released for the game, although not all of them will play," said Ulster assistant-coach Allen Clarke.
"Gilly was back to his bubbly self in training today, so hopefully there'll be no repercussions. There were a few bumps and bruises after the Treviso game, but nothing serious."
Ulster, who are one point off the top of the table, will be bidding to make it three wins on the bounce against the Welsh region, who have yet to register a point from their opening two matches. They began with a 23-13 home defeat to Munster and then lost 20-9 to Edinburgh last weekend, but Clarke insists nothing can be taken for granted in Friday night's game.
The Scarlets won 22-21 on their last visit to Belfast in February, when Jackson kicked 10 of Ulster's points: "They will be a wounded animal, in their games so far this season, they've had lots of possession and opportunities," Clarke added.
"Our biggest fear is ourselves, in terms of our performance, making sure that our systems are right, both in attack and defence. We have to recognise that they are a fully-loaded team, bar their injuries and they play a good brand of football.
"They can play with width, they've got the physicality up front and through the middle with their back unit. So we've got to deal with their threats, we've got to ensure we play in the right areas of the field, that we're tidy when we have the ball and go through the phases. This is a game we lost last season, but a win this time could put us in a really positive position, mentally and in the table."
While happy with the opening two wins, Clarke feels there is still room for improvement, pointing to Ulster's failure to secure a bonus-point from the victory over Treviso, when a fourth try proved elusive: "Particularly with 20 minutes to go, we got ourselves into a good position and a few unforced errors and a lack of discipline meant we weren't able to capitalise," he said.
"We've got to deal with situations better, deal with the opposition better and show that ruthlessness for 80 minutes. It's been well documented that, last season, that one more win would have put us in a better position in the PRO12 and in Europe. It's important that, if you get yourself into a good position, like we were in Treviso, that you nail those bonus-point wins.
"But you've got to move on quickly and this week is all about beating the Scarlets and maintaining that winning mentality and momentum."