Preview: Ulster v Dragons

Date published: February 9 2012

Ulster are boosted by the return from Ireland duty of Paddy Wallace and Dan Tuohy for their PRO12 clash with the Dragons on Friday.

Ulster are boosted by the return from international duty of Paddy Wallace and Dan Tuohy for their PRO12 clash with the Dragons in Belfast on Friday.

Regular captain Johann Muller suffered a calf injury in the team run on Wednesday and has been pulled from the team as a precaution.

John Afoa will take over as skipper for the night and he is joined in the front-row by Andi Kyriacou and Callum Black, who makes his second start. Muller's absence means Lewis Stevenson will partner Tuohy, while Mike McComish, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack form the back-row.

The half-back pairing of Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys remains, as does the centre partnership of Wallace and Ian Whitten. Adam D'Arcy will start at full-back, with the versatile Stefan Terblanche moving to left wing and Craig Gilroy switching to the right flank.

Paddy McAllister has returned from injury to take a place on the bench where he will provide front-row cover. The experienced Tim Barker and Academy player Ali Birch are the other forward replacements. Paul Marshall, Nevin Spence and Danielli complete the squad.

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin is confident that the absence of some experienced players will be offset by the hunger of the players coming in.

“We're delighted to have the guys away with Ireland, it's important for that the individuals get recognition for their performances with Ulster,” he said.

“With those guys away, it gives others a chance to come in and push themselves. It's important for the squad that we give as many opportunities as possible to players as we have to be in a position where we have depth in each area.”

The Dragons have lost their previous ten games but boss McLaughlin is taking nothing for granted despite having home advantage.

“It's good to be back at Ravenhill in front of our home crowd but form counts for very little when you're playing the Dragons. They are always difficult to beat and they will be as determined as ever to stop the rot,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Dragons have Ashley Smith back as captain of the side which sees a number of changes since their last match, against the Ospreys in Bridgend a fortnight ago.

Adam Jones and Rob Sidoli both return in the second-row having been rested after a busy December and January period. Back-row Gavin Thomas is also fit again after injury.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Adam D'Arcy, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Stefan Terblanche, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Mike McComish, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 John Afoa (capt), 2 Andi Kyriacou, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Tim Barker, 20 Ali Birch, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Nevin Spence, 23 Simon Danielli.

Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Jamie Smith, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Ashley Smith (capt), 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Gavin Thomas, 7 Darren Waters, 6 Jevon Groves, 5 Rob Sidoli, 4 Adam Jones, 3 Nathan Buck, 2 Steve Jones, 1 Nathan Williams.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Phil Price, 18 Dan Way, 19 Hugo Ellis, 20 Tom Brown, 21 Joe Bedford, 22 Andy Tuilagi, 23 Lewis Robling.

Date: Friday, February 10
Kick-off: 19:05
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)