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...Kieron Dawson...

Ireland flanker Kieron Dawson seems certain to make his competitive debut for Ulster when the Magners League rolls into Belfast on Saturday night.

Mark McCall's reigning champions face a tricky opener as they entertain Llanelli Scarlets at Ravenhill (kick-off 7.30pm, live Setanta Sports Ireland), especially with talismanic out-half David Humphreys (shoulder) being a serious doubt and nine of last year's starting line-up absent due to injury or Ireland squad commitments.

Former Wallaby lock Justin Harrison, who has a facial injury, and prop Justin Fitzpatrick (elbow) are also concerns for McCall, who is due to name his starting XV on Wednesday afternoon.

However, he does have the envious task of incorporating Dawson, Roger Wilson, who is back from suspension, Neil McMillan and the fit-again Stephen Ferris into his three back row slots.

Many observers at last Friday's friendly against Rotherham Earth Titans reckon Dawson, who has been capped 21 times by Ireland, did enough to retain his place - the former London Irish forward operated efficiently on the blindside of Ulster's scrum in the 26-14 win.

Speaking after the Rotherham game, the Bangor-born Dawson said: "That was a good wake-up call for us all. It was different from the Borders friendly and just the physical confrontation we needed ahead of the start of the league campaign.

"It has been a great summer of conditioning and we had a fairly easy run-out against the Borders, but that was the kick up the backside we needed."

Whilst admitting that the wet conditions curtailed Ulster's running game, the 31-year-old added: "Certainly early on we were able to create massive holes in the Rotherham defence and they were over-committing to the breakdown which on a wet night is the way to play, and the conditions played into our hands.

"But when we got it wide, we created big holes and looked a much better side. The conditions dictated the way we played and while it was fairly boring stuff, it was effective on the night."

With his first taste of Celtic League action just days away, Dawson told the Newsletter: "I'm really looking forward to it. We have a lot of work to do and nobody is under any illusions. Our set piece at times didn't work against the Titans, but we will be looking at it this week. We'll learn from this game and go forward."

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20 June 2018
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