The second semi-final of the weekend sees Edinburgh take on Ulster at BT Murrayfield.
Edinburgh finished top of the log in Conference B, tie with Munster on overall points but edging into top spot on points difference. Ulster completed the round-robin exchanges, finishing second in Conference A behind Leinster.
Edinburgh boast a far better win rate this year, emerging victorious in 11 of their 15 outings while Ulster won just over 50% (8) of their fixtures. Both the Scots and the Irishmen elected to rest the bulk of their first-choice players last weekend in the return clash against Glasgow Warriors and against Leinster respectively, as enough had already been done to qualify for the semis.
Thus, the teams that will take the field on Saturday will resemble more closely those that ran out in Round 14. Edinburgh were slow starters in that encounter, mounting a comeback in the final quarter which eventually saw Glasgow away, though the latter were in strong form for most of the game.
Ulster, on the other hand, were pushed hard and ultimately defeated 26-20 by a fired up Connacht outfit. That, coupled with the defeat to Leinster in Round 15 means that Dan McFarland’s men embark on the semi-finals with two consecutive losses under the belt.
All things considered, Edinburgh’s chances seem significantly brighter than Ulster’s, however, semi-finals are different beasts where the unexpected is known to rear its head.
Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist makes his 150th appearance as Edinburgh Rugby welcome back a cohort of internationalists for tomorrow night’s Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final against Ulster at BT Murrayfield.
The inclusion of Gilchrist is one of eight changes the capital side make as Scotland stars Mark Bennett, Rory Sutherland, Stuart McInally, WP Nel and Ben Toolis all return to the starting XV.
The experienced half-back pairing Jaco van der Walt and Nic Groom also get the nod for Edinburgh Rugby’s first-ever Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final appearance.
An unchanged back-three sees Blair Kinghorn continue at fullback alongside wing duo Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe.
Chris Dean retains his place in midfield and is paired with 22-times capped centre Bennett, while the aforementioned pairing of Groom and Van der Walt get the nod at half-back.
An all-Scotland front-row sees captain McInally pack down alongside prop duo Sutherland and Nel, while Toolis returns from injury to partner Gilchrist – who becomes only the eighth player in club history to reach 150 appearances – in the second-row.
Fijian international No. 8 Viliame Mata anchors an unaltered back-row that sees flankers Magnus Bradbury and Hamish Watson complete the pack.
Elsewhere, Scotland star Jamie Ritchie returns from injury and is named among the replacements for the post-season clash.
Fly-half Billy Burns will return to captain the Ulster men, and is one of three changes from last week’s meeting with Leinster.
Jacob Stockdale will once again take the 15 jersey, with wingers Rob Lyttle and Louis Ludik completing the starting back three. For the third game in succession, James Hume and Stuart McCloskey will pair up in midfield. John Cooney will line up alongside Billy Burns in the half-back positions.
The front row is unchanged from the game against Leinster, with Rob Herring retaining his starting berth at hooker, as well as Eric O’Sullivan and Tom O’Toole at loosehead and tighthead props respectively. Alan O’Connor is the only change to the pack and comes in to join Sam Carter in the second row. Matthew Rea and Jordi Murphy have been named as the flankers with Marcell Coetzee packing down at number eight.
John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Kieran Treadwell and Sean Reidy provide the forward options off the bench, while Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan and Michael Lowry are the backline reinforcements.
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- Overall Guinness PRO14 head to head record: Played 33, Edinburgh won 11, Ulster won 22.
- Ulster have won their last three matches against Edinburgh including two at BT Murrayfield.
- The two sides have met just once before in a postseason game at BT Murrayfield with Ulster winning the 2003 Celtic Cup Final 27-21.
- Edinburgh Rugby’s 3-15 defeat to Glasgow Warriors on Friday ended a run of six successive Guinness PRO14 victories. That reversal was Edinburgh’s first defeat at BT Murrayfield since Ulster beat them there in April 2019.
- This is Edinburgh’s first appearance in a Guinness PRO14 semi-final although they have appeared in three previous semi-finals in other competitions; beating Connacht in Galway in the 2003 Celtic Cup, losing to Ulster at Aviva Stadium in the 2012 Heineken Cup and winning against Dragons at BT Murrayfield in the 2015 European Challenge Cup.
- Ulster have not won since beating Toyota Cheetahs in Belfast on 22 February, whilst their only away win in the PRO14 this season was against Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in October.
- This is Ulster’s ninth Guinness PRO14 semi-final encounter, but they have won only one previous match, at home to Scarlets in 2013.
Kick off Saturday, 7.35pm (GMT)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)