Ulster have an opportunity to put their winless start to the European Champions Cup behind them when they pick up their GUINNESS PRO12 challenge at home to the Dragons.
GUINNESS PRO12: Saturday, November 1
ULSTER (3rd) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (9th), Kingspan Stadium, 7.35pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/S4C)
Team News: Ulster head coach Neil Doak has made seven changes and two positional switches to the team that lost to Toulon for Saturday’s GUINNESS PRO12 game against the Newport Gwent Dragons at Kingspan Stadium.
Stuart Olding has been released from Ireland camp and starts the game at full-back. Louis Ludik switches to the right wing with Darren Cave selected at outside centre and Stuart McCloskey picked at inside centre.
Peter Nelson is named on the left wing and plays his first match of the season for Ulster, while Paddy Jackson and Paul Marshall continue in the half-backs.
Up front, Callum Black starts at loosehead prop, Rob Herring is named at hooker and South African Wiehahn Herbst continues on the tighthead side of the scrum.
The second row is unchanged with Lewis Stevenson selected alongside Franco van der Merwe, while Clive Ross makes his first start for the province at blindside flanker and Irish-qualified New Zealander Sean Reidy is at openside for his competitive debut.
The two new flankers will have stand-in captain Roger Wilson, who has 162 Ulster caps to his name, alongside them in the back row.
Forwards John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb and Robbie Diack are selected on the bench as are backs Michael Heaney, Ian Humphreys and Ricky Andrew.
The seated section of the Memorial End Stand is sold out for the BBC 2 Northern Ireland-televised game, but tickets remain on sale for all other areas of the ground. For the best remaining available tickets, please buy online here.
Match tickets will also be available on the gate with the ticket booth opening at 6pm on Saturday. These will be restricted to terrace tickets only.
Meanwhile, new signing Rhys Williams has been named in the Dragons team to take on Ulster in Belfast.
The 26-year-old centre, who has signed from Carmarthen Quins on a month-long loan, played in Carmarthen’s comeback win over Leinster ‘A’ in the British & Irish Cup last Saturday.
Including Williams, Dragons director of rugby Lyn Jones has made seven changes to the side that faced Newcastle Falcons in round 2 of the European Challenge Cup.
Jason Tovey, who recently played for Welsh Premiership side Cross Keys at full-back, has made the positional move into the back-three and is joined by wingers Matthew Pewtner and Aled Brew. The centre pairing takes on the new shape of PRO12 debutant Williams and Ashley Smith. Half-backs Angus O’Brien and Richie Rees are retained.
The front row sees the return of Boris Stankovich and Thomas Rhys Thomas who join tighthead prop Dan Way. James Thomas and Rynard Landman fill the second row spots, the latter also taking on the role of captain.
The back row has two changes as Lewis Evans is joined by young gun James Benjamin and former Lion Andy Powell.
The region’s replacement bench has five changes as youngsters Elliot Dee, Scott Andrews, Ollie Griffiths, Geraint Rhys Jones and Ashton Hewitt join Owen Evans, Lloyd Fairbrother and Jonathan Evans.
ULSTER: Stuart Olding; Louis Ludik, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Peter Nelson; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson, Franco van der Merwe, Clive Ross, Sean Reidy, Roger Wilson (capt).
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Robbie Diack, Michael Heaney, Ian Humphreys, Ricky Andrew.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Jason Tovey; Matthew Pewtner, Rhys Williams, Ashley Smith, Aled Brew; Angus O’Brien, Richie Rees; Boris Stankovich, Thomas Rhys Thomas, Dan Way, James Thomas, Rynard Landman (capt), Lewis Evans, James Benjamin, Andy Powell.
Replacements: Elliot Dee, Owen Evans, Lloyd Fairbrother, Scott Andrews, Ollie Griffiths, Jonathan Evans, Geraint Rhys Jones, Ashton Hewitt.
Referee: Matteo Liperini (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, Paul Haycock (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/16; Draw: 33/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 8/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Lewis Stevenson (Ulster) – “We have probably let ourselves down in both European performances against Leicester and Toulon. They were two games we probably could have won and, for whatever reason, we didn’t get the results.
“I think we played fairly well for the first 30 minutes (against Toulon) and maybe we switched off a little bit before half time. They scored a penalty and a try and we gave ourselves a bit of a mountain to climb and you can’t do that against Toulon, and that is where we let ourselves down.
“The Dragons are further down the league but they are a physical side. You can’t think, ‘oh, we’ve played the European champions so it’s now a bit of a comedown week with (international) guys away’. Those are excuses we can’t afford, we are professional rugby players and we now have to step up and do our job.
“There are changes with guys with less experience coming in, so the guys with more experience have to shoulder more of that leadership role.
“It is just doing what you usually do but speaking a bit more and giving the guys around you confidence to go out and play.”
Rhys Williams (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “The step up from (Welsh) Premiership to British & Irish Cup is big and it will be the same again (from British & Irish Cup to regional rugby) but I am looking forward to it.
“It will be a big challenge at Ulster but I can wait and feel I am ready for it. I’d like to think that I am a direct centre and that I put my tackles in, I’ve played 12 most of my career but can also slot in at 13.”
Top Scorers – 2014/15 GUINNESS PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 52; Tries: Andrew Trimble 4; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 30; Tries: Richie Rees, Hallam Amos 2 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, September 30, 2011 – Newport Gwent Dragons 22 Ulster 9, Rodney Parade
Friday, February 10, 2012 – Ulster 30 Newport Gwent Dragons 12, Ravenhill
Friday, October 26, 2012 – Newport Gwent Dragons 19 Ulster 46, Rodney Parade
Friday, April 12, 2013 – Ulster 31 Newport Gwent Dragons 5, Ravenhill
Friday, September 6, 2013 – Newport Gwent Dragons 15 Ulster 8, Rodney Parade
Friday, February 28, 2014 – Ulster 38 Newport Gwent Dragons 8, Ravenhill
– Ulster’s only loss in the GUINNESS PRO12 this season came in round 4 against Zebre in Parma, while the province have been defeated just once in Belfast in the league in their last 13 matches: 22-20 to Leinster last May
– No Welsh region has won in Ulster since the Ospreys were the visitors in February 2013
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have won only once in the PRO12 this season: 33-15 at home to Benetton Treviso in round 4
– The Welshmen have not been victorious on the road in the competition since visiting Glasgow Warriors in November 2013
– The men of Gwent have beaten Ulster just once in their last five meetings: 15-8 at Rodney Parade in the opening round last season, while the Welshmen’s most recent victory in Belfast was 16-14 in September 2008