Preview: Ulster v Dragons

Date published: March 18 2011

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named a youthful side to take on the Dragons in their Magners League match at Ravenhill on Friday.

Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named a youthful side to take on the Dragons in their Magners League match at Ravenhill on Friday.

Winger Conor Gaston is the latest Phoenix Ulster Rugby Academy player to be given his chance, starting on the wing in place of Andrew Trimble who is on Ireland duty.

Gaston has been in scintillating form for Dungannon in the All-Ireland League and has also impressed for the Ulster Ravens in recent months.

The 20 year old is included in a starting XV also includes talented young backs Patrick Jackson, Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall and Nevin Spence.

Luke Marshall returns to inside centre as Paddy Wallace is also with Ireland, while Jackson's inclusion at fly-half sees Ruan Pienaar move back to his more familiar scrum-half position with Paul Marshall dropping to the bench.

In the front row, Andi Kyriacou and Declan Fitzpatrick come in for Nigel Brady and Tom Court. The other change in the pack sees Robbie Diack pack down at number eight in place of Pedrie Wannenburg.

Captain Johann Muller continues his second row partnership with Tim Barker.

The squad is boosted with long term injury absentees Dan Tuohy and Darren Cave named among the replacements.

Meanwhile, Dragons coach Darren Edwards has made just three changes from the side that faced Gloucester in the LV=Cup semi-final on Sunday.

Joe Bearman will start at number eight, whilst Toby Faletau will come into the game off the bench.

“We wanted to look after Toby this weekend,” said Edwards.

“He only came back two weeks ago and has played 80 minutes against Munster and then another 80 against Gloucester, both of which were very full-on physical games.

“In addition he's been in training with Wales this week so the intensity would have been high.”

Adam Hughes comes for Tom Riley in the centre, who takes up a spot on the bench.

“Adam really is a centre so we want to give him exposure there as well as on the wing. He had a very successful partnership with Pat Leach for Newport and it's good to give them an opportunity to work together again,” added Edwards.

“I think that Pat proved on the weekend that he deserves to be in the Dragons and his selection reflects that.”

The only addition to the side that played Gloucester last weekend is the return of scrum-half James Leadbeater to the bench in the place of Jon Evans who is set to start for Wales U20 against France U20 on Friday.

Form: Ulster have stopped the decline that saw them drop from second to sixth in the table over the course of the season, to now sit just one place outside the play-off zone. They will be keen to turn their game in hand into points if they are to maintain a challenge for a top-four finish. Their opponents will also be chasing points in their quest for European qualification next season, they currently sit in eighth place despite being two games short of many of their opponents.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Adam D'Arcy, 14 Conor Gaston, 13 Nevin Spence, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Willie Faloon, 6 Chris Henry, 5 Tim Barker, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Andi Kyriacou, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Bryan Young, 18 Jerry Cronin, 19 Dan Tuohy, 20 Pedrie Wannenburg, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Tommy Seymour.

Dragons: 15 Martyn Thomas, 14 Will Harries, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Pat Leach, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jason Tovey, 9 Wayne Evans, 8 Joe Bearman, 7 Lewis Evans, 6 Andrew Coombs, 5 Adam Jones, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Dan Way, 3 Lloyd Burns, 2 Phil Price.
Replacements:16 Steve Jones, 17 Pat Palmer, 18 Hugh Gustafson, 19 Adam Brown, 20 Toby Faletau, 21 Tom Riley, 22 James Leadbeater, 23 Matthew Jones.

Date: Friday, March 18
Venue: Ravenhill
Kick-off: 19:05 GMT
Referee: James Jones (Wales)