The Ulster ‘A’ team will host Bedford Blues in the latest round of the British & Irish Cup at Deramore Park in Belfast on Friday night (kick-off 7.30pm).
Head coach Alex Codling has named John Andrew as captain of a youthful side, which includes seven Hughes Insurance Academy players in the starting line-up.
Andrew will start at hooker and will be joined in the front row by Andrew Warwick and Bronson Ross. John Donnan and Peter Browne have been named in the second row, with former Ireland Under-20 internationals Conor Joyce, Nick Timoney and Lorcan Dow combining in the back row.
Academy players David Shanahan and Johnny McPhillips will occupy the half-back positions, while Sam Windsor and Mark Best will line up together in midfield, and Jacob Stockdale, Robert Lyttle and Rodger McBurney form an exciting back-three.
There are another three Academy players on the replacements bench – lock Alex Thompson and half-backs Connor Young and Andrew Magrath. Johnny Murphy, Ruaidhri Murphy and Jonny Simpson will provide front row cover, with scrum half Paul Rowley completing the matchday squad.
There is no charge at the gate and all support will be hugely welcomed by the players and management. Looking forward to the round 5 tie, skipper Andrew said: “It’s a big honour (to lead the team), of course, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter who skippers the side – we’ve got to put in a performance and push for a place in the quarter-finals.
“We know what a good side Bedford is. It was perhaps a lack of concentration which let us down over there, as we were leading but went on to lose 27-18. We lost momentum and ended up chasing a game I think we should have won. They have a big pack, and they have some very good backs who like to play a bit of rugby, they’re dangerous.
“But I honestly think we can win and obviously that would keep our hopes of qualifying from the pool alive. We lost to the Scarlets Premiership Select at Ballymena last month in front of a great crowd at Eaton Park. To lose that game was particularly disappointing because we got a bonus point win in Llanelli the week before.
“But at home we didn’t come to terms with the Scarlets’ game-plan, and we’ve worked hard since and are really up for the game with Bedford.”
Ulster A lies in third position in Pool 2 of the British & Irish Cup, having played four games, and sits a point behind Bristol, whom they visit for their final group game next week. Bedford currently top the table with three wins.
ULSTER ‘A’ (v Bedford Blues): Rodger McBurney; Robert Lyttle, Mark Best, Sam Windsor, Jacob Stockdale; Johnny McPhillips, David Shanahan; Andrew Warwick, John Andrew (capt), Bronson Ross, John Donnan, Peter Browne, Conor Joyce, Nick Timoney, Lorcan Dow.
Replacements: Johnny Murphy, Ruaidhri Murphy, Jonny Simpson, Alex Thompson, Connor Young, Paul Rowley, Andrew Magrath.