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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Newport Gwent Dragons

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Newport Gwent Dragons

It will be a case of the old and the new on the wing for Ulster as Ireland and Lions star Tommy Bowe makes a welcome return from injury, while promising youngster Rory Scholes is set for his full debut for the province.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, February 28

ULSTER (3rd) v NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS (7th), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTÉ Two)

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Team News: Tommy Bowe will start for Ulster against the Newport Gwent Dragons at Ravenhill on Friday night, having recovered from the leg injury that has kept him out since November.

Bowe, the Ireland and Lions winger, starts on the right wing and is joined in the back-three by regular full-back Jared Payne and recent Ireland Under-20 international Rory Scholes, who makes his first senior start for the province.

Luke Marshall and Darren Cave maintain their partnership in midfield. Paddy Jackson has been released by the Ireland management and starts at out-half, with Ruan Pienaar moving back to his more familiar position of scrum half.

Up front Callum Black starts at loosehead prop with Tom Court named on the bench. Rob Herring continues at hooker with Ricky Lutton keeping his place at tighthead.

Johann Muller captains Ulster from the second row where he is joined by Iain Henderson, who has also been released from international duty.

Robbie Diack, a try scorer against Benetton Treviso, Sean Doyle and Roger Wilson all start in an unchanged back row.

Stuart McCloskey, a 21-year-old centre who is a member of the Hughes Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy, is named as a replacement and will make his first senior appearance for Ulster if called upon.

Friday’s game is the 11th match to be sold out at Ravenhill this season. There will be live television coverage on both BBC 2 Northern Ireland and RTÉ Two.

Meanwhile, Bruce Douglas will make his first start for the Dragons as they make the trip up to Belfast to face third-placed Ulster.

The 34-year-old Douglas is on loan from Bristol RFC and will make his first start of the season since joining the Dragons squad at the beginning of the month.

There are four changes to the team that beat Glasgow Warriors 24-23 last Sunday. Welsh Sevens star Rhys Jones gets his third start of the season at full-back and is joined in the back-three by Matthew Pewtner and Ross Wardle.

The centre pairing of Pat Leach and Ashley Smith makes another appearance with Smith also taking on the role of captain in Andrew Coombs’ absence.

At number 10 young gun Steffan Jones takes on kicking duties as Jason Tovey drops to the bench and scrum half Richie Rees retains his starting place.

The front row has one change to it as Douglas comes into the starting line-up alongside Owen Evans and Rhys Thomas.

The second row has taken on a younger form as Matthew Screech steps up in Coombs’ absence and Cory Hill retains his starting berth. The back row remains unchanged with Jevon Groves, Nic Cudd and Lewis Evans combining once more.

In breaking news announced earlier today, Dragons head coach Darren Edwards has left the region with immediate effect.

Edwards commented: “After five seasons my time with the Dragons has come to an end. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here working with some fantastic players.

“In professional sport it is important that you continue to challenge yourself and develop and I have decided that now is the time for me to do that.

“In agreement with the Dragons I am leaving at this stage of the season, as it will enable me to spend time with my wife and young sons before moving onto my next challenge.

“It is good to see the Dragons in a healthy place and having a great win at Rodney Parade last Sunday.”

ULSTER: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Rory Scholes; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Ricky Lutton, Johann Muller (capt), Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Sean Doyle, Roger Wilson.

Replacements: Niall Annett, Tom Court, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, David McIlwaine.

NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: Rhys Jones; Matthew Pewtner, Pat Leach, Ashley Smith (capt), Ross Wardle; Steffan Jones, Richie Rees; Owen Evans, Rhys Thomas, Bruce Douglas, Matthew Screech, Cory Hill, Jevon Groves, Nic Cudd, Lewis Evans.

Replacements: Nathan Williams, Hugh Gustafson, Duncan Bell, Rob Sidoli, Ieuan Jones, Wayne Evans, Jason Tovey, Jack Dixon.

Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Correll, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/25; Draw: 35/1; Newport Gwent Dragons to win: 10/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Mark Anscombe (Ulster) – “It is about taking responsibility for what we need to do, and we’ve got two or three guys on the fringe of the national team who have to show that they are international quality players.

“Maybe a few of them haven’t done that in the last few weeks. We need to get it right against the Dragons on Friday night.

“It’s been a while since Tommy (Bowe) has been out and with what is coming ahead of us we want to make sure we’re not rushing it and when he is ready to play he is confident to go out and play.”

Lewis Evans (Newport Gwent Dragons) – “We will need our defence to stay watertight in Ulster. (Our director of rugby) Lyn Jones hasn’t reinvented the wheel, he has just tightened up our defence by putting more secure systems in place and making sure everyone is accountable for their roles.

“Ulster are will without a few Irish internationals but still have world class players in their side.

“Ravenhill is a formidable place to go but we have put them under pressure in the past. We will go there with a positive attitude to play and to challenge one of the top teams in Europe.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 82; Tries: Darren Cave 4; Newport Gwent Dragons – Points: Jason Tovey 125; Tries: Hallam Amos, Dan Evans, Will Harries, Richie Rees, Ross Wardle 2 each


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
Friday, April 12, 2013 – Ulster 31 Newport Gwent Dragons 5, Ravenhill
Friday, September 6, 2013 – Newport Gwent Dragons 15 Ulster 8, Rodney Parade


– Ulster’s only defeat in any competition since early November was 19-6 to Leinster at the RDS in the RaboDirect PRO12 on December 28

– The Ulstermen have not managed to claim a try-scoring bonus point in the competition since round 8, while their only defeat at Ravenhill in the last twelve months was to Glasgow Warriors on September 13

– The Newport Gwent Dragons’ last five fixtures in the PRO12 have all been won by the home side on the day, while the Welshmen’s only victory on the road in the competition since round 16 last season came at Glasgow in November

– The men of Gwent have lost their last five contests with Irish provinces and have won just once away from home against an Irish team since October 2004: 16-14 against Ulster at Ravenhill in September 2008

– The Dragons were victorious 15-8 at Rodney Parade when the two teams met in round 1 but have not achieved a season’s double over the Ulstermen since the 2008/9 campaign