The Ulster management team have made four personnel changes for the RaboDirect PRO12 fixture against Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday (kick off 7.05pm).
Paul Marshall, Craig Gilroy and Lewis Stevenson have been elevated to the starting XV, while Declan Fitzpatrick will go straight into the team on his return from a knee injury. Roger Wilson could make his first appearance for Ulster since returning to the club after being selected on the bench.
Marshall’s inclusion at scrumhalf will see Ruan Pienaar move to flyhalf in place of Paddy Jackson who is among the replacements. Tommy Bowe will line out at fullback, with Jared Payne earning a well earned rest after playing in every minute of Ulster’s campaign to date. Gilroy is named on the left wing, with Andrew Trimble switching to the right flank, while Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave continue their impressive centre partnership.
Fitzpatrick replaces All Black John Afoa at tighthead prop and will join Rory Best and Tom Court in the front row. Lewis Stevenson has replaced the injured Johann Muller in the second row alongside Dan Tuohy. The back row remains unchanged from the one that lined out against Glasgow last week, although Chris Henry will have the added responsibility of captaining the side in Muller’s absence.
The decision has been made not to risk Stephen Ferris (back) despite him training earlier in the week.
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.
However, they have just one victory at Rodney Parade in their last six attempts.
Ulster: Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy, Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall, Tom Court, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (capt), Nick Williams. Replacements: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, John Afoa, Mike McComish, Roger Wilson, Patrick Jackson, Luke Marshall, Jared Payne.
Dragons: Tom Prydie, Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Andy Tuilagi, Tonderai Chavhanga, Lewis Robling, Jonathan Evans, Owen Evans, Steve Jones (c), Nathan Buck, Adam Jones, Rob Sidoli, Tom Brown, Jevon Groves, Toby Faletau. Replacements: Sam Parry, Nathan Williams, Dan Way, Ian Nimmo, Nic Cudd, Liam Davies, Steffan Jones, Pat Leach.
It’s a stronger looking team than I thought it would be but do I detect the hand of Deccy in some of the selections? Tommy at full back and Fitzy rushed straight in will certainly help with some of Ireland’s problems over the AI’s and I’m gald to see that Henderson is being seen first and foremost as a back row who can cover second rather than the other way round.
I suppose it’s about time we had a look at Marshall P alongside Pienaar and with the wee man being overlooked for the Ireland squad I guess he ‘ll have plenty to prove.
The bench is packed with quality and I expect we’ll see a good shift from Wilson in the second half and I’d guess the IRFU would prefer that young Lukey got at least a half.
We’ve often had our nose’s bloodied in Newport, but I think we’ll be coming away from this one with a comfortable win.