Roger Wilson and Declan Fitzpatrick have been named in the extended Ulster squad for Friday’s game against Dragons at Rodney Parade (kick off 7.05pm).
It is the first time Wilson has been named in a preliminary squad since his return to Ulster, having suffered a hamstring tear playing for Northampton Saints at the end of last season. The number 8 has enjoyed impressive outings for the Ravens in recent weeks and scored two tries in Sunday’s loss to Bristol.
Fitzpatrick had suffered a reoccurrence of a medial ligament injury prior to the Connacht match earlier this month but has undertaken full training over the past week and will be hopeful of getting much needed game time.
Stephen Ferris has been included after missing the last two games with a back injury, while flyhalf Niall O’Connor has also been added to the panel.
Johann Muller has been ruled out for eight weeks after sustaining a thumb injury in Friday’s Heineken Cup win over Glasgow. Ireland international back row Chris Henry will captain the side in Muller’s absence.
Ulster continue to set the pace at the top of the PRO12 table, and still possess a 100% winning record in all competitions this season. The Ulstermen have won five of their last six fixtures with Welsh regions and have been victorious on their two visits to Wales so far this campaign.
Dragons’ only win in their last seven matches in all competitions was 32-12 at home to Edinburgh in round five of the league. The Welsh outfit have an even worse record against Irish provinces, winning just one of their last 14 encounters. That success did come over Ulster though, just over 12 months ago when they registered a 22-9 win at Rodney Parade. The Ulstermen have managed only one victory at Rodney Parade since 2006.
FORWARDS: Rory Best, Nigel Brady, Tom Court, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Adam Macklin, John Afoa, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Stephen Ferris, Mike McComish, Chris Henry (capt), Nick Williams, Roger Wilson.
BACKS: Paul Marshall, Ruan Pienaar, Niall O’Connor, Paddy Jackson, Paddy Wallace, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne.
It’s so difficult to predict the starting side directly after the Heineken outings and before the Autumn internationals. Ulster will be wanting to rest some key players and the IRFU will be wanting some to get more game time.
In the case of the latter I suspect that Ferris and Fitzpatrick will be asked to clock up 100+ minutes in the next two weeks and they may also want a bit of a look at Henderson in the second row though Dan and Lewis should start. Given the dearth of classic no 8′s eligible for the Island of Ireland they may also be wanting an extended look at Wilson. After the working over that the front row received from a second string Glasgow I don’t think there will be too many changes at the coal face with Fitzpatrick for Afoa the only one I’m expecting.
Young Jackson has put his body on the line quite a bit over the last few weeks and, with O’Connor playing well for the Ravens, I expect O’Connor to be given a run out against the Dragons, being away from home he should feel less pressure on him as he tries to rebuild his career. Paul Marshall will be let of the leash from the start and I think the “Heir Apparent” Luke Marshall will be stepping into Paddy’s shoes for this one.
FRU XXIII: Court, Best, Fitzpatrick, Stevenson, Tuohy, Ferris, Henry, Wilson, Marshall P, O’Connor, Trimble, Marshall L, Cave, Bowe, Payne. Bench: Black, Brady, Afoa, Henderson, Williams, Pienaar, Jackson, Payne.