Abbey Insurance Academy back rower Greg Jones and South African prop Schalk van der Merwe will start for Ulster for the first time after being selected to face the Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm).
Greg Jones and Schalk van der Merwe made their debuts as replacements during last Friday night’s narrow GUINNESS PRO14 win over Benetton Rugby at Kingspan Stadium.
Ireland internationals Rory Best, Stuart McCloskey and Sean Reidy return to the squad after helping Ireland to a GUINNESS Series clean sweep this month, with the latter two selected in Les Kiss’ starting XV.
Paul Marshall, who won his 200th Ulster cap last weekend, will start at scrum half, while Christian Lealiifano reverts from inside centre to out-half and retains the captaincy duties.
McCloskey will be partnered by the versatile Tommy Bowe in midfield, and Craig Gilroy, Louis Ludik and Charles Piutau will form a potent back-three combination in Newport.
The only change in the front five sees van der Merwe included, as John Andrew, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Ireland international Kieran Treadwell retain their starting places. Jones and Reidy will join Ireland Sevens international Nick Timoney in the back row.
Chris Henry has recovered from injury to take his place on the bench alongside fellow forwards Best, Callum Black, Andrew Warwick and Matthew Dalton, one of the new caps last Friday. John Cooney, Peter Nelson and Andrew Trimble complete the matchday 23.
ULSTER (v Dragons): Charles Piutau; Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Christian Lealiifano (capt), Paul Marshall; Schalk van der Merwe, John Andrew, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: Rory Best, Callum Black, Andrew Warwick, Matthew Dalton, Chris Henry, John Cooney, Peter Nelson, Andrew Trimble.