Ulster will aim to get over their Heineken Cup quarter-final disappointment in quick fashion by overcoming the Dragons when the RaboDirect PRO12 resumes tonight.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, April 12
ULSTER (2nd) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (11th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/TG4)
Team News: Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made seven personnel changes and two positional switches for Friday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill.
Ireland international Tommy Bowe, who won his 100th cap for Ulster when he came off the bench against Saracens, starts his first game for the province since he injured knee ligaments against Northampton Saints in December.
Peter Nelson is named at full-back instead of Jared Payne, who picked up a slight ankle knock at Twickenham. Stuart Olding replaces Luke Marshall who suffered concussion in the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat.
Paddy Jackson is rested for the game, so Ruan Pienaar switches to the out-half role with Paul Marshall coming in to wear the number 9 jersey.
Tom Court remains at loosehead prop alongside Rory Best, who will captain the side on Friday night. Ricky Lutton starts at tighthead prop.
With regular skipper Johann Muller out for three weeks with a bicep injury, Iain Henderson moves to the second row alongside Dan Tuohy. Robbie Diack returns at blindside flanker.
Chris Henry is rested for the visit of the Welsh region, so Mike McComish will line out at openside flanker with Nick Williams named at number 8.
Meanwhile, Dragons boss Darren Edwards has made three changes up front by including Sam Parry, who steps up from the bench against the Scarlets, Nathan Buck and openside flanker Darren Waters.
Waters has recently impressed with his ball-carrying ability in the Welsh Premiership. The 28-year-old is back to full fitness after recovering from a knee injury which ruled him out for most of the season.
“Darren has been hugely missed and the timing of his injury couldn’t have been worse – there was a big opportunity for him after Gavin Thomas retired last season,” said Edwards.
“While he was out we found Nic (Cudd), and that means that we have got two great 7s going into next year. Darren has worked so hard to come back and stood out in the Premiership, now we have to create some competition.”
The men of Gwent will keep the faith in their young centre pairing of Pat Leach and Jack Dixon; they stand alongside Dan Evans who impressed with a man-of-the-match performance at number 10 in the Dragons’ last match against the Scarlets.
Welsh international Andrew Coombs also retains his place as captain of the regional side.
Among the replacements there is the return from injury of Andy Tuilagi who is back after a hamstring injury. He is hoping for some game-time alongside Hugh Gustafson, Nathan Williams and Adam Jones.
ULSTER: Peter Nelson; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Craig Gilroy; Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Mike McComish, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Ali Birch, Niall O’Connor, Michael Allen, Adam D’Arcy.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Tom Prydie; Will Harries, Pat Leach, Jack Dixon, Ross Wardle; Dan Evans, Jonathan Evans; Aaron Coundley, Sam Parry, Nathan Buck, Andrew Coombs (capt), Rob Sidoli, Dan Lydiate, Darren Waters, Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Hugh Gustafson, Nathan Williams, Dan Way, Adam Jones, Jevon Groves, Wayne Evans, Steffan Jones, Andy Tuilagi.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Paul Haycock, Gary Conway (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/12; Draw: 33/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 13/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Mark Anscombe (Ulster) – “The guys involved last week (against Saracens) are facing a challenge and it is how the individuals bounce back and prove something from that challenge. There is also still a lot of play for the group.
“It is an exciting year for the British & Irish Lions as well and we have a few contenders in the squad. There are a couple of Irish summer tours to be selected and a lot of the guys in there will want to put their hands up for that.
“To do that you have to be winning, that has been the case this season already. You have to be at the right end of things.
“Guys have aspirations for that and myself and the management team must give them the motivation and the tools for them to go and show how they are doing so they can achieve their personal goals.
“That personal motivation will hopefully be reflected in a team performance by Ulster on Friday night which gets the desired result.”
Darren Edwards (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “I fully expect an Ulster backlash (after they lost to Saracens in the Heineken Cup), and a big one at that.
“They only have the league to play for after being beaten in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and every point is crucial for them.
“Ulster will be fully loaded and are a European heavyweight team; it’s a huge challenge for us but another opportunity to show that we are heading in the right direction.
“After a big disappointment against the Ospreys we responded to the atmosphere and challenge of Judgement Day at the Millennium Stadium. We will need to do the same again on Friday.”
Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 99; Tries: Andrew Trimble 7; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Tom Prydie 134; Tries: Dan Evans 6
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, October 26, 2012 – Newport Gwent Dragons 19 Ulster 46, Rodney Parade
– Ulster’s three-match winless run in the RaboDirect PRO12 ended with their hard-fought 22-18 victory over Leinster at the RDS on March 30
– Ulster’s nine-game winning run against Welsh regions at Ravenhill ended with their 16-12 defeat there to the Ospreys on February 8
– The Newport Gwent Dragons have slipped to three successive PRO12 losses since their 14-13 victory over Zebre in Parma in round 16
– The Dragons have been victorious only once in their last nine contests with Irish provinces
– The men of Gwent have beaten Ulster just once in their last half a dozen encounters: 22-9 at Rodney Parade in September 2011. The Dragons’ most recent victory at Ravenhill was in September 2008