PREVIEW: Glasgow Warriors v Ulster
PRO14 SEMIFINAL: It seems not so long ago that Glasgow Warriors were ripping all asunder on route to their first title win back in 2015.
That year they also disposed of Ulster in the semifinals, but Connacht, Scarlets & Leinster have all succeeded them as champions and now they will be keen to fulfil the form that led them to the top of Conference A.
Last season’s loss, at this precise spot, to a Scarlets team defending their title came as a jolt to the system after regular season domination. Now a home Final in Glasgow beckons if they can see off a resurgent Ulster team.
Dave Rennie seems to have his team peaking at just the right time, but the same can also be said for their visitors.
Despite a comfortable win for the Warriors when these sides met in Scotstoun in Round 19, Ulster are showing a rich vein of form and key players are returning from injury right when they are needed most.
It could also be Rory Best’s last shift in an Ulster jersey, that in itself will be a driving force for a team aiming to return to the final for the first time since 2013.
Best knows one player that could play a big role in achieving that goal and that is his teammate Marcell Coetzee.
Coetzee has been outstanding for Ulster this season after his first two years were plagued by knee injuries.
But Best believes Coetzee has now shown what a valuable signing he is.
“No matter what foot he’s on, he makes yards,” said Ulster captain Best told the BBC.
“Ultimately, that’s what your foreign players should be, big players that have big moments in big games.”
He added: “When we first signed him, we knew how good he was.
“When we played them [South Africa] in the Aviva and he handed off [Jamie] Heaslip, those moments, that’s the sort of player he is.
“The encouraging thing is the way the other back-rowers play off him.
“We know how good Jordi [Murphy] is but Nick Timoney and Sean Reidy, even the Rea brothers, Greg Jones they watch him and see what he does and try to emulate that.
“Again your foreigners, that’s what you want from them.”
🗣 Ulster prop @RossKane1 says the squad aren’t dwelling on previous results versus Glasgow, and are fully focused on keeping a positive mindset going into tomorrow’s PRO14 Semi-Final… pic.twitter.com/17aEY18oPy
— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) May 16, 2019
Meanwhile, the Warriors will have star wing DTH van der Merwe back for Friday’s clash.
Stuart Hogg will play his final game at Scotstoun before joining English Premiership side Exeter Chiefs next season and he joins Van de Merwe in a dangerous back three along with fellow club centurion Tommy Seymour.
Glasgow Warriors Head Coach Dave Rennie said: “We’re in a much better place than we were 12 months ago and have trained with a real edge during this three-week break.
“DTH is back earlier than we expected which is a big boost. His power as well as his experience of knock-out rugby will be invaluable tomorrow [Friday] night.
“We know Ulster will be a completely different animal to the side we faced here last month and we’re going to have to play better than we did that day to get the result.
“We’re all determined to a be a part of a Glasgow Final and know we’re going to have to play our best rugby of the season to get there.”
Prediction: This is Glasgow Warriors seventh semifinal in the last eight years although they have only reached two finals, in 2014 and 2015, both at Scotstoun, against Munster and Ulster. Glasgow have won their last eight Pro14 matches since their defeat to Benetton in Treviso on January 5. The Warriors’ only Championship defeat at Scotstoun since last season’s semifinal was to Edinburgh on December 29. Ulster are playing in their first semifinal since 2016, whilst the only time they have reached the final in seven previous semifinal attempts was when they beat Scarlets in Belfast in 2013. Ulster have been defeated only once in Guinness PRO14 since round 13: 7-30 to Glasgow at Scotstoun on April 5. Ulster have won on three of their last five visits to Scotland. Glasgow’s home victory over Ulster in Round 19 ended a run of three successive defeats to the Irish province. Ulster have won just once at Scotstoun in the Guinness PRO14: 22-17 in September 2016.
Prediction: Glasgow Warriors
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Kyle Steyn, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Callum Gibbins (captain), 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Jamie Bhatti.
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Ryan Wilson, 20 Tom Gordon, 21 George Horne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Huw Jones.
Ulster: 15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Robert Baloucoune, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Nick Timoney, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Tom O’Toole, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Michael Lowry, 23 Darren Cave.
Date: Friday, May 17
Venue: Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow
Kick-off: 19:35 (18:35 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Additional sources: BBC @ @PRO14Official