Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named his first squad for a Magners League match as the province gear up for Sunday’s trip to Rodney Parade to face the Newport Gwent Dragons (kick-off 2.05pm).
Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning centre Paddy Wallace and Scottish winger Simon Danielli have been included in Ulster’s extended squad.
Both players took ill last week and missed the province’s final pre-season friendly against Worcester Warriors, but Brian McLaughlin is likely to give them as much time as possible to prove their fitness for this weekend’s league opener.
New signings Dan Tuohy and Andy Kyriacou and Ballynahinch duo Willie Faloon and Nevin Spence have made the cut for the Dragons game.
Wallace’s Grand Slam-winning team-mates, Rory Best and Stephen Ferris, are two big absentees for McLaughlin’s men.
Best has been ruled out for the season, while Ferris, who suffered a knee injury during the Lions tour, is unavailable for selection as he continues his pre-season regime.
Ferris’ back row colleague David Pollock is also missing, with another six weeks of rehab ahead of him. He is recovering from a hip operation.
After enjoying three pre-season wins over Newcastle Falcons, Viadana and Worcester, new coach McLaughlin is looking forward to the start of Ulster’s Magners League campaign.
He said: “We are pleased with the way the three pre-season games went. To get two home wins was very important for us going forward, particularly as we want to bring in that fortress Ravenhill mentality again.
“To get an away win (in Worcester) was really pleasing and the guys stepped up their performance again against a useful Worcester side.
“But it is now all about Sunday. It is our opening league game, our first really competitive match with points to be attained.
“We want to go and win the game, but we know it will be hard.
“The good thing about the pre-season games – outside the wins – was that we got to see almost everyone playing, particularly the young guys and I think we have shown that we have a good squad of about 30 players who can stand up and be counted.
“The young guys did exceptionally well against Viadana, as well as in Bayonne during the French training camp, and some have put their hands up for senior selection.”
ULSTER Squad (v Newport Gwent Dragons): Backs (12) – Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Niall O’Connor, Simon Danielli, Ian Whitten, Andrew Trimble, Paul Marshall, Bryn Cunningham, Isaac Boss, Ian Humphreys, Paddy Wallace, Nevin Spence.
Forwards (13) – Nigel Brady, Tom Court, BJ Botha, Bryan Young, Ed O’Donoghue, Matt McCullough, Andy Kyriacou, Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Ryan Caldwell, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Declan Fitzpatrick.