As expected, Dan McFarland has rotated the team ahead of Ulster’s first trip to the Principality Stadium to take on the Dragons tonight.
Seven changes have been made with Ross Kane coming into the front row while Sean Reidy and David McCann starting in the back row. In the backs, Michael Lowry makes his third start at ten while Alby Mathewson, Rob Lyttle, Stewart Moore and Craig Gilroy are the changes from last week.
While nothing is at stake for Ulster, they cannot catch Leinster at the top of the conference and their second place finish in the pool is secure as they sit 23 points ahead of Ospreys, Dragons have plenty to play for as Glasgow sit five points ahead of them in the final Champions Cup space.
There’s a few faces that haven’t seen a lot of game time this season, so this is their chance to impress ahead of the Rainbow Cup and Challenge Cup knockout stage.
Chasing Champions Cup qualification, the Dragons are buoyed by the midweek announcement that Wales and Lions international Jamie Roberts has signed a new contract.
Dragons have only four wins this season and they have come against Ospreys, Benetton, Glasgow and Zebre. Scoring 28 tries in this season’s campaign Ashton Hewitt tops their chart as well as in clean breaks, metres gained and defenders beaten (PRO14 website). He doesn’t feature but Wales international and former Leicester Tiger Jonah Holmes starts on the wing.
Up front Ollie Griffiths has recovered from injury to join Ross Moriarty in the back row. Both are quality players that will cause Ulster some problems. Watch out for Ben Carter on the bench who has made an impression in his debut season as well as Nick Tompkins who has been released from international duty for this match.
Ulster swept the Dragons aside with ease at Ravenhill in October with Louis Ludik scoring twice as well as scores from Marcell Coetzee, Eric O’Sullivan, Sean Reidy and Alan O’Connor.
|4-3-17||Celtic League||Rodney Parade||Mike Adamson||27||17|
|1-12-17||PRO14||Rodney Parade||Marius Mitrea||32||32|
|3-3-19||PRO14||Rodney Parade||Stuart Berry||28||15|
The man in the middle
Adam Jones will ref his 10th competition game at the Principality tonight and this will be his second Ulster match, having officiated Ulster’s 35-24 win over Benetton on the opening weekend of the tournament.
Ben Whitehouse and Dan Jones are the assistant referees while Ian Davies makes it an all Welsh affair in the TMO box.
|Josh Lewis||15||Jacob Stockdale|
|Jonah Holmes||14||Craig Gilroy|
|Aneurin Owen||13||Stewart Moore|
|Jamie Roberts||12||Stuart McCloskey|
|Rio Dyer||11||Rob Lyttle|
|Sam Davies||10||Michael Lowry|
|Rhodri Williams (c)||9||Alby Mathewson|
|Brok Harris||1||Eric O’Sullivan|
|Richard Hibbard||2||John Andrew|
|Lloyd Fairbrother||3||Ross Kane|
|Joe Davies||4||Alan O’Connor (C)|
|Joe Maksymiw||5||Kieran Treadwell|
|Harrison Keddie||6||David McCann|
|Ollie Griffiths||7||Sean Reidy|
|Ross Moriarty||8||Nick Timoney|
|Rhys Lawrence||16||Brad Roberts|
|Josh Reynolds||17||Callum Reid|
|Aaron Jarvis||18||Gareth Milasinovich|
|Matthew Screech||19||Cormac Izuchukwu|
|Ben Carter||20||Matty Rea|
|Dan Baker||21||David Shanahan|
|Gonzalo Bertranou||22||Ian Madigan|
|Nick Tompkins||23||Ethan McIlroy|
The FRU predicts
I’m looking forward to seeing how this Ulster side goes. There’s a lot of inexperience – David McCann, Stewart Moore and Michael Lowry at ten all start while Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Cormac Izuchukwu and Ethan McIlroy are named on the bench. Ulster are still favourites, but I think the Dragons will be stiff opposition with the potential to spring an upset.