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Ulster v Treviso: Three keys to a home victory at Ravenhill

Treviso have struggled this season, but they will match up key men in areas Ulster have suffered injuries.

ULSTER WELCOME TREVISO to Ravenhill for tomorrow’s Heineken Cup pool clash (KO 18.00).

While the Italian side are languishing near the foot of the Pro12 and Ulster top pool five, they might just show up injected with the little x-factor of a side with pride to restore.

The club today confirmed that Franco Smith would leave his role as head coach six months earlier than expected. Sadly, we can’t convert emotional intangibles like that onto an electronic screen, so here are three match-ups which could have a major bearing on the final outcome.

Rob Herring v Leonardo Ghiraldini

After heroically playing on through injury against New Zealand, a broken arm finally slowed Rory Best down. It’s an absence that leaves (on paper) a definite mis-match in Treviso’s favour. Ghiraldini is Italy’s first choice hooker, a mean scrummager and a serious force with and without the ball around the park. Ulster’s props will find little to fear in their opposite numbers, but Rob Herring will have to dig deep to get the upper hand.

Getting his side of the line-out right will be first port of call as the visitors are certain to target that area. And if he can add a few other facets after that then Ulster will have set a solid base for success.

Roger Wilson v Roberto Barbieri

With Nick Williams, Iain Henderson and Chris Henry all out injured, Ulster’s back-row is far from first choice – Best’s missing influence on the breakdown should not be underestimated here either. However Wilson has been in superb form as a dogged, tireless number eight in recent weeks and will hope to dominate the ruck as much as he did during the Pro12 meeting between the sides earlier this season.

Barbieri will act more like a classic number eight, carrying hard and fast at the Ulster line to give his fellow beastly members of the Treviso pack go-forward ball. Stop him and it could prove a fatal blow to Italian hopes.

Paddy Jackson v Mat Berquist

Unlike Berquist, Jackson won’t have the responsibility of goal-kicking this weekend with Ruan Pienaar back in harness.

But he will have a game to run and that is an area in which Jackson excels.  With the obvious exception of Tommy Bowe, the number 10 will have a first-choice back-line to service and so he will be eager to keep Ulster running the ball in dangerous areas.

Berquist has been unable to push Treviso on a step this year and the northern Italian side sit third from bottom of the Pro12, but the Kiwi remains a fine footballer and goal-kicker who will punish Ulster if they get sloppy.

Ulster: Jared Payne, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Tom Court, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Sean Doyle, Roger Wilson.

Niall Annett, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb,  Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Michael Allen, David McIlwaine.

Treviso: Luke McLean, Ludovico Nitoglia, Michele Campagnaro, Alberto Sgarbi, Angelo Esposito, Mat Berquist, Edoardo Gori, Alberto de Marchi, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello (capt), Cornelius van Zyl,  Alessandro Zanni, Dean Budd, Roberto Barbieri.

Franco Sbaraglini, Michele Rizzo,  Ignacio Fernandez Rouyet, Paul Derbyshire, Marco  Filippucci, Christian Loamanu, Tobias Botes, James Ambrosini.

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