High-flying Ulster take on one of the teams in the lower reaches of table, the Newport Gwent Dragons, when they resume their RaboDirect PRO12 campaign at Rodney Parade on Friday.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, October 26
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (11th) v ULSTER (1st), Rodney Parade, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/BBC 2 Wales)
Team News: Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe have made four personnel changes for the RaboDirect PRO12 encounter with the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday.
Paul Marshall, Craig Gilroy and Lewis Stevenson have been elevated to the starting line-up, while Declan Fitzpatrick will go straight into the team on his return from a knee injury.
Roger Wilson could make his first appearance for Ulster since returning to the province after being selected on the bench.
Marshall’s inclusion at scrum half will see Ruan Pienaar move to out-half in place of Paddy Jackson who is listed among the replacements.
Tommy Bowe shifts to the full-back spot, with Jared Payne earning a well-earned rest after playing in every minute of Ulster’s 2012/13 campaign to date.
Gilroy is named on the left wing as Andrew Trimble switches to the right, while Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave continue their impressive centre partnership.
Fitzpatrick replaces All Black John Afoa at tighthead prop to join Rory Best and Tom Court in the front row. Behind that trio, Stevenson steps in for the injured Johann Muller in the second row.
The back row remains unchanged from the one that lined out against Glasgow Warriors last time out, although Chris Henry will have the added responsibility of captaining the side in Muller’s absence.
The decision has been made not to risk Stephen Ferris (back) despite him being able to train earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, there are only two changes to the Dragons team that 22-19 at home to Bayonne in the Amlin Challenge Cup last Saturday.
Ian Nimmo drops to the replacements bench as Adam Jones returns in the second row. Last weekend’s captain Lewis Evans is suffering from a groin injury, so Jevon Groves slots in at openside flanker.
Andy Tuilagi, the man-of-the-match against Bayonne, retains his starting place at inside centre in an unchanged back-line. Lewis Robling also continues at half-back alongside Jonathan Evans.
The Welsh region have a lengthy injury list at present with players of the cailbre of Dan Lydiate (ankle), Ulsterman Jamie Smith (ankle), Andrew Coombs (knee) and Wayne Evans (back) among the absentees.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Tom Prydie; Will Harries, Adam Hughes, Andy Tuilagi, Tonderai Chavhanga; Lewis Robling, Jonathan Evans; Owen Evans, Steve Jones (capt), Nathan Buck, Adam Jones, Rob Sidoli, Tom Brown, Jevon Groves, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Sam Parry, Nathan Williams, Dan Way, Ian Nimmo, Nic Cudd, Liam Davies, Steffan Jones, Pat Leach.
ULSTER: Tommy Bowe; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (capt), Nick Williams.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, John Afoa, Mike McComish, Roger Wilson, Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Jared Payne.
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Neil Perkins (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Neil Ballard (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 11/4; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 2/7
Pre-Match Quotes: Paddy Wallace (Ulster) – “Mark (Anscombe) has come in and done a fantastic job. We basically swept last season under the carpet and have drawn a line under reaching the Heineken Cup final and focused on the future and that has served us well so far.
“The thing that strikes me is the strength in depth that we have got at Ulster now, everywhere you look on the pitch there is quality in both the backs and the forwards.
“Paul Marshall has been in superb form so far this season but he didn’t really get a game last weekend (in Glasgow) and that just shows the options we’ve got.
“We’ve been very happy with the form we’ve shown this season, you can’t really ask for more than five wins out of five in the league – winning games breeds confidence and that’s obvious for us at the moment.”
Darren Edwards (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “It (the Bayonne game) shows that the performances are in us, we’ve got all the weapons and the frustrating thing is that the PRO12 table would look a lot better if we had played like that in a number of league fixtures.
“That needs to be our benchmark and that is the standard that we strive for on the training ground – and I can assure you we are working really, really hard for that.
“It was a much better performance but if we think Bayonne are a big European team then they are nothing on Ulster.
“They are the form team at the moment. It’s an even bigger challenge and we need an even bigger performance.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Tom Prydie 55; Tries: Dan Evans 4; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 46; Tries: Nick Williams 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Sunday, September 6, 2009 – Newport Gwent Dragons 23 Ulster 6, Rodney Parade
Friday, February 19, 2010 – Ulster 22 Newport Gwent Dragons 22, Ravenhill
Thursday, March 18, 2010 – Ulster 25 Newport Gwent Dragons 23, Ravenhill
Friday, May 6, 2011 – Newport Gwent Dragons 13 Ulster 20, Rodney Parade
Friday, September 30, 2011 – Newport Gwent Dragons 22 Ulster 9, Rodney Parade
Friday, February 10, 2012 – Ulster 30 Newport Gwent Dragons 12, Ravenhill
– The Newport Gwent Dragons’ only win in their last seven matches in all competitions was a 32-12 triumph at home to Edinburgh in round 5 of the RaboDirect PRO12
– The Dragons have won just one of their last 14 encounters with Irish provinces, 22-9 over Ulster at Rodney Parade in September 2011
– Ulster continue to set the pace at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table, and still possess a 100% winning record in all competitions this season
– The Ulstermen have won five of their last six fixtures with Welsh regions and have been victorious on their two visits to Wales so far this campaign
– Each team won its respective home game when the two sides met last season. Ulster’s only victory at Rodney Parade since 2006 came in May 2011