The Ulster coaching staff have named the two squads for Friday’s double header at Kingspan Stadium. Ulster ‘A’ will take on Canada ‘A’ at 5.15pm and the province’s senior team will host Northampton Saints at 7.30pm.
Entry to both fixtures costs from just £10 for children and £15 for adults, and tickets are available from www.ulsterrugby.com/buytickets or at the gates from 4.30pm on Friday.
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss said: “I think that our pre-season preparations have been good and there are some really solid things to take forward into the new season.
“This game (against Northampton) will wrap up pre-season and the fixture schedule has given some of our young players a chance to play against top (English) Premiership opposition. That experience should stand them in good stead from a development perspective.
“I’m pleased to see Ross Kane get an opportunity for the seniors after injuries to three of our tightheads, and the Canada ‘A’ game will allow us to get the full squad some much-needed game-time against a well-drilled side.
“It goes without saying that the Saints will provide us with a massive challenge. They have a very experienced team that is full of internationals, but it’s exactly the type of fixture that we need at this stage and it will be another good test for some of our young players.”
Hughes Insurance Academy player Robert Lyttle, who scored two tries in a late 10-minute cameo appearance last week against Exeter, has been rewarded with selection on the left wing.
The only other newcomer to the back-line is Paul Marshall, who will step into scrum half after Ruan Pienaar picked up an elbow injury last Saturday. It will be a first Kingspan Stadium appearance for All Black Charles Piutau, who will line out at full-back. Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave are retained in midfield, with Brett Herron at out-half and Louis Ludik occupying the right wing berth.
Loosehead prop Andrew Warwick has been introduced to the starting line-up in what is the only change to the starting pack. The Ballymena clubman will be joined in the front row by captain Rob Herring and Rodney Ah You. Peter Browne and Franco van der Merwe continue their second row partnership, and Robbie Diack, Clive Ross and Roger Wilson are again included in the back row unit.
Kiss has gone for a six/three split of forwards and backs on the bench. John Andrew, Callum Black and Academy player Kane will provide cover for the front row, while Alan O’Connor, Conor Joyce and Matthew Rea are the other forwards selected. Backs Dave Shanahan, Sam Windsor and Jacob Stockdale make up the rest of the matchday squad.
ULSTER (v Northampton Saints): Charles Piutau; Louis Ludik, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Robert Lyttle; Brett Herron, Paul Marshall; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring (capt), Rodney Ah You, Peter Browne, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: John Andrew, Callum Black, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Clive Joyce, Matthew Rea, Dave Shanahan, Sam Windsor, Jacob Stockdale.
Meanwhile, a youthful Ulster ‘A’ squad will be captained by loosehead prop Kyle McCall as they welcome Canada ‘A’ to Belfast.
McCall is joined in the front row by his brother Zack, who will start at hooker. Craig Trenier will don the number 3 jersey, with Kieran Treadwell and Alex Thompson in the engine room. Ireland Sevens international Nick Timoney is named at blindside flanker, with Conall Boomer and Stephen Mulholland occupying the other loose forward positions.
Angus Lloyd and Johnny McPhilips, who have impressed during pre-season so far, fill the half back roles, Rory Butler and Mark Best are paired together in midfield, and Aaron Cairns, Conor Kelly and David Busby start together in the back-three.
Adam McBurney, Tommy O’Hagan, Michael Lagan and Peter Cooper will offer front row options on the bench. Ballyclare second row Alistair Burke and Hughes Insurance Academy duo Aaron Hall and Marcus Rea will provide extra cover up front. Fellow Academy players Jonny Stewart and Andrew Magrath, plus sub-Academy player Conor Field, are covering the back-line.
ULSTER ‘A’ (v Canada ‘A’): David Busby; Conor Kelly, Mark Best, Rory Butler, Aaron Cairns; Johnny McPhillips, Angus Lloyd; Kyle McCall (capt), Zack McCall, Craig Trenier, Kieran Treadwell, Alex Thompson, Nick Timoney, Conall Boomer, Stephen Mulholland.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Tommy O’Hagan, Michael Lagan, Peter Cooper, Alistair Burke, Aaron Hall, Marcus Rea, Jonny Stewart, Andrew Magrath, Conor Field.