A strong Ulster Ravens team has been named for their British & Irish Cup Pool 1 clash with Bristol this Sunday (kick off 3.00pm).
The starting side will see five personnel and two positional changes from last weekend’s comprehensive 49-19 win over Bridgend.
All five newcomers to the team have featured prominently for the senior side so far this season; Mike Allen, Luke Marshall and Michael Heaney in the backs, and Robbie Diack and Adam Macklin in the forwards.
Diack is named in a very strong looking back row alongside Ali Birch, and Roger Wilson, who is continuing his return to action following a hamstring tear. Macklin comes in at tighthead prop to join fellow Belfast Harlequins front rowers Niall Annett and Richard Lutton. Alan O’Connor and Neil McComb will continue their second row partnership, with the latter named as captain.
In the backs, Marshall and Allen will form an all new centre pairing, with Stuart Olding moving from inside centre to the flyhalf berth. Heaney will start at scrumhalf in place of Blane McIlroy. Peter Nelson and Chris Cochrane are again named in the back three, with Ricky Andrew switching from outside centre to wing to cover Adam D’Arcy’s injury.
The bench also has a strong look about it with the experienced Nigel Brady covering hooker. Academy players Kyle McCall, James Simpson and Conor Joyce are the other forward replacements. McIlroy, flyhalf Niall O’Connor and Dungannon outside back Stuart McCloskey will also provide cover.
Ulster Ravens: Peter Nelson, Ricky Andrew, Michael Allen, Luke Marshall, Chris Cochrane, Stuart Olding, Michael Heaney, Richard Lutton, Niall Annett, Adam Macklin, Alan O’Connor, Neil McComb (capt), Robbie Diack, Ali Birch, Roger Wilson. Replacements (16-22): Nigel Brady, Kyle McCall, James Simpson, Conor Joyce, Blane McIlroy, Niall O’Connor, Stuart McCloskey.
As the opponents get tougher this week for the Ravens, it is a welcome sight to see members of the senior squad filter back into position. Robbie Diack and Michael Allen take a run out after spells with injury, undoubtedly adding strength at centre and in the back row against a physical Bristol.
It is interesting to see Stuart Olding move from last week’s position of inside centre to fly-half, with Niall O’Connor on the bench. Olding’s man of the match performance against Bridgend has earned him his start at out-half and quite frankly, it comes as no surprise.
Another outing for Roger Wilson should see him gain momentum from last week, as he edges towards Heineken Cup and PRO12 starts. The back row of Diack, Birch and Wilson will create problems for the Bristol side, with the named Ulster pack looking likely to secure the majority of possession.
The bench provides options in Nigel Brady and Academy youngsters Kyle McCall, James Simpson and Conor Joyce. With Joyce being my brother, it would be good to see him come on and build upon his full eighty from last weekend.
Although Bristol will challenge the Ravens here, the injection of experience from the senior squad combined with Olding’s current form should see them through. I would expect a solid win from the Ulster side, as the competition begins to heat up, so too will Ulster’s performance.