Ulster have received a boost with the availability of John Cooney and Jordi Murphy ahead of Sunday’s PRO14 clash against the Dragons.

The inclusions of Cooney and Murphy represent two of the three changes that Dan McFarland has made with the third seeing Billy Burns return from injury to replace Pete Nelson at out half.

Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Marty Moore start in the front row for the third time in a row and fifth time this season while the second row pairing of Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell remains unchanged. The back row sees a reshuffle due to the selection of Murphy with Sean Reidy moving to the blindside in place of Clive Ross. Nick Timoney completes the back row formation at 8.

As mentioned, John Cooney and Billy Burns resume in their roles as halfbacks while Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave continue in the midfield. All three outside backs scored against Zebre and will be hoping to do the same on Sunday; Rob Lyttle starts on the left wing, Robert Baloucoune starts on the right wing while Louis Ludik is named at fullback.

Reidy will make his 100th appearance for the province when he takes to the field at Rodney Parade. The Auckland-born Irish international is into his fifth season with Ulster after joining from Counties Manakau having made his debut in November 2014. He quickly established himself as one of Ulster’s most consistent performers and has been ever-present over the last two seasons playing a total of 2,431 minutes. This season, he’s formed a formidable back row alongside Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee and a lot of Ulster’s success in the Heineken Champions Cup can be put down to the three of them working in tandem.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the Welsh regions at the minute, Dragons have found it tough this season. Only four wins all season coupled with heavy defeats to Leinster and Benetton leaves them locked level on points with Southern Kings at the foot of Conference B. The poor start saw the dismissal of Bernard Jackman and since then, performances have picked up. One point separated Munster from their hosts at the start of January while they defeated Ospreys at the turn of the year.

Last week however saw them suffer a heavy 57-7 defeat away to a depleted Benetton side. The Dragons made changes for that game and were perhaps believing that their chances of gaining a result in Sunday’s game were higher. Benetton were by fair the better side in that game and the changes for the Dragons led to some iffy defending allowing the Italians to simply pick them off. They were also weak in the fringes around the breakdown so I’d like to see Ulster target this area with a quick pick-and-go game.

Nine players come into the side ahead of Sunday’s match. Jordan Williams returns for the Welsh region at fullback while they are also boosted by the inclusion of international players, Hallam Amos and Leon Brown. Amos played 13 minutes in Wales’ round two win over Italy while Brown is yet to feature for the only unbeaten side in the competition.

The FRU predicts: Even though Ulster have came away from Rodney Parade with points it hasn’t always been a happy hunting ground for them. However, bolstered by the release of Cooney and Murphy as well as the recovery of Billy Burns, I fancy Ulster to record their sixth away win of the season on Sunday.

Dragons Ulster
Jordan Williams 15 Louis Ludik
Hallam Amos 14 Robert Baloucoune
Adam Warren 13 Darren Cave
Jarryd Sage 12 Stuart McCloskey
Dafydd Howells 11 Rob Lyttle
Josh Lewis 10 Billy Burns
Rhodri Williams 9 John Cooney
Brok Harris 1 Eric O’Sullivan
Richard Hibbard 2 Rob Herring
Lloyd Fairbrother 3 Marty Moore
Joe Davies 4 Alan O’Connor
Matthew Screech 5 Kieran Treadwell
Huw Taylor 6 Sean Reidy
Taine Basham 7 Jordi Murphy
Harri Keddie 8 Nick Timoney
Rhys Lawrence 16 Andrew Warwick
Josh Reynolds 17 John Andrew
Leon Brown 18 Wiehahn Herbst
Max Williams 19 Ian Nagle
Lennon Greggains 20 Matthew Rea
Tavis Knoyle 21 Dave Shanahan
Jason Tovey 22 James Hume
Tyler Morgan 23 Peter Nelson

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