Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has named a strong side for the province’s opening RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Glasgow Warriors at Ravenhill on Friday (kick-off 7.05pm).
Paul Marshall and Ian Humphreys will dictate affairs from half-back and will again team up with centres Nevin Spence and Darren Cave.
Ian Whitten finds himself out of his regular centre position as he occupies the left wing berth for the first time. He is joined in the back-three by Adam D’Arcy and last season’s top try scorer, Craig Gilroy.
Chris Henry will captain the side from number 8 and is joined in the back row by the experienced Pedrie Wannenburg and Willie Faloon.
Lewis Stevenson will make his first competitive appearance for Ulster and will partner Dan Tuohy in the second row. Jerry Cronin, Paddy McAllister and Andi Kyriacou will combine in the province’s starting front row.
Academy duo Conor Carey and Peter Nelson, as well as development player Adam Macklin, have been named among the replacements and are in line for their first competitive appearances.
Nelson, in his first year out of school, has impressed in the pre-season friendly wins over Neath and Harlequins and will cover positions 11 to 15.
The 19-year-old Carey has been playing club rugby for Ballymena and put in a number of excellent performances for the Ulster Ravens in the British & Irish Cup last season.
Macklin also appeared for the Ravens but missed most of last season with an ankle injury. Nigel Brady, Neil McComb, Ian Porter and Paddy Jackson are the other players held in reserve.
Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin is confident that his side can hit the ground running, after an excellent pre-season win over Harlequins last Friday.
“Against Harlequins we set our stall out, we wanted to show our fans what they can expect from us at Ravenhill this season,” he said.
“The key thing is that we build on what we did last weekend. We’re very pleased with the tempo that we played at, we’re pleased with the way that we were trying to play.
“We’ve got to make sure we cross the whitewash this Friday night and do exactly the same, only better. It’s a matter now of proving we can do it in the heat of battle and in the heat of the competition.”
McLaughlin feels that that World Cup call-ups that have hit his squad is a positive, rather than a negative.
“To have nine players away representing their country is outstanding for us and we’re very pleased. From our point of view it’s exciting and challenging.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re looking forward to seeing how our youth perform at this level. It’s vital for them and it’s vital for our future.
“For them it is a great opportunity, it’s a great challenge for us and it’s one that we really want to get our teeth into.”
The Ulster supremo believes the early stages of the competition will go a great way to show who is capable of challenging for honours at the end of the season.
“I hope that we will be up there in and around the top three or four, that’s one of our aims. But we’ll have to wait and see how all the teams react over the next six or seven weeks, how they progress or regress in relation to having players away.
“The final placings in the league will not be decided in the next six or seven weeks but I think you’ll get a fair handle on just what other sides have in their squads.”
Tickets are still available for Friday’s game. Tickets can be bought online at www.ulsterrugby.com, by calling the Ticket Office on 02890493222 (option 2), or at the gate on match night.
ULSTER (v Glasgow Warriors): Adam D’Arcy; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Ian Whitten; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Paddy McAllister, Andi Kyriacou, Jerry Cronin, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry (capt).
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Conor Carey, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Robbie Diack, Ian Porter, Paddy Jackson, Peter Nelson.