The Ulster team to face Dragons in the RaboDirect PRO12 on Friday at Ravenhill has been named (kick off 7.05pm).
Ulster are hopeful that Paddy Wallace and Dan Tuohy will be released from the Ireland squad and have been named in the line up against the Welsh region, while Simon Danielli is named on the bench following his release from Scotland duty.
Regular captain Johann Muller suffered a calf injury in the team run on Wednesday and has been pulled from the team as a precaution. All Black prop John Afoa will take over as skipper for the night and he is joined in the front row by Andi Kyriacou and Callum Black, who makes his second start. Muller’s absence means Lewis Stevenson will partner Tuohy at lock, while Mike McComish, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack form an athletic back row.
The half back pairing of Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys remains, as does the centre partnership of Wallace and Ian Whitten. Adam D’Arcy will start at fullback, with the versatile Stefan Terblanche moving to left wing and Craig Gilroy switching to the right flank.
Paddy McAllister has returned from injury to take a place on the bench where he will provide front row cover along with Nigel Brady and Adam Macklin. The experienced Tim Barker and Academy player Ali Birch are the other forward replacements. Paul Marshall, Nevin Spence and Danielli complete the match day squad.
Ulster Coach Brian McLaughlin is confident that the absence of some experienced players will be offset by the hunger of the players coming in. “We’re delighted to have the guys away with Ireland, it’s important for that the individuals get recognition for their performances with Ulster. With those guys away, it gives others a chance to come in and push themselves. It’s important for the squad that we give as many opportunities as possible to players as we have to be in a position where we have depth in each area.”
Commenting on the late withdrawal of his captain, he said: “Johann got a tight calf during the team run yesterday (Wednesday) and after a scan we had a slight fear that it would develop, so we decided not to risk him. But it gives Lewis Stevenson the chance to step in and get some more game time, and Tim (Barker) will get some action from the bench.”
The Dragons have lost their previous 10 games but McLaughlin is taking nothing for granted despite having home advantage. “It’s good to be back at Ravenhill in front of our home crowd but form counts for very little when you’re playing the Dragons. They are always difficult to beat and they will be as determined as ever to stop the rot.”
There are still tickets available for Friday’s game. They can be bought online at www.ulsterrugby.com or by calling the ticket office on 02890493222 (ticketing option). Alternatively, you can pay at the gate on match night.
Please be aware that ticket zoning and scanning will be in operation at the ground this season. Supporters should check their tickets to ensure that they are entering through the correct gate. More details are available at http://www.ulsterrugby.com/news/9575.php.
Ulster Rugby would advise supporters coming to the game (gates open 5.30pm) to avoid parking in the immediate vicinity of the Ravenhill Grounds and that the following roads are only accessible for residents and closed to everyone else:
1. Onslow Parade
2. Ravenhill Park
3. Ravenhill Park Gardens
There will also be parking restrictions in place in the Castlereagh area (Mount Merrion Avenue). Supporters are encouraged to make use of the Park 'n' Ride facilities at Pirrie Park and along Montgomery Road.
Ulster Match Day Squad to face Dragons, Friday 10th February 2012, Ravenhill (kick-off 7.05pm)
(15-9): A D’Arcy; C Gilroy, I Whitten, P Wallace, S Terblanche; I Humphreys, R Pienaar;
(1-8): C Black, A Kyriacou, J Afoa (capt), L Stevenson, D Tuohy, M McComish, W Faloon, R Diack;
Replacements (16-23): N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, A Birch, P Marshall, N Spence, S Danielli
Unavailable due to injury: Jared Payne (achilles), Declan Fitzpatrick (neck), Darren Cave (foot), Pedrie Wannenburg (foot), Johann Muller (calf)