Preview: Ulster v Dragons

Date published: February 4 2016

Several high profile players will return to Ulster's starting XV for Friday's PRO12 clash with the Dragons at Kingspan Stadium.

Paddy Jackson, Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar and Nick Williams have all been included in the matchday squad by Director of Rugby, Les Kiss.

There are four changes from the starting XV that beat Treviso at the weekend, as Diack, Pienaar, Jacob Stockdale and Pete Browne are selected in Kiss' side. Jackson and Williams will start the match from the bench.

Stockdale, who made his debut in the bonus point win in Italy, will make his first senior start for the Province after being named on the left wing. Louis Ludik, fresh from penning a contract extension earlier this week, is retained at fullback, with Craig Gilroy continuing on the other wing. 

With limited training time this week due to a slight thigh injury, Rory Scholes is on the bench and will provide cover for the back three.

Stuart Olding made a try-scoring return from injury last weekend and he will again line out alongside fellow Ireland international, Darren Cave, in midfield. 

Scrum-half Pienaar, who has missed the last two games with an illness, will be joined at fly-half by Ian Humphreys, who enjoyed a 100% kicking record from the tee at Stadio Monigo last week.

The front row is unchanged, with captain Rob Herring to be joined by props Callum Black and Ricky Lutton. Browne will partner Alan O'Connor in the second row as Franco van der Merwe, who has started 16 of Ulster's 18 games this season, is given a well-earned rest. Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy and Roger Wilson will form a combative back row.

Jackson, Scholes and Paul Marshall are the backline replacements, front row cover will be provided by John Andrew, Kyle McCall and Bronson Ross, while Clive Ross and Williams complete the panel of 23.

Meanwhile, South African lock Rynard Landman gets the nod from Dragons' Director of Rugby Lyn Jones to skipper the Welsh region.

Jones has made six changes to the team that beat Leinster 23-13 last weekend at Rodney Parade.

The back three remain unchanged as wing Hallam Amos is, once again, released from the Wales squad to play along side last weekend’s Man of the Match Ashton Hewitt and fullback Carl Meyer. 

The centre partnership also remains unchanged as Adam Hughes and Adam Warren are named. Fly-half Angus O’Brien is called up to replace Jason Tovey as the 26-year-old sustained a back spasm during training this week. There is also a change at scrum-half as Charlie Davies starts and Sarel Pretorius is moved to the bench.

The front row sees the inclusion of Phil Price and Elliot Dee replaces Thomas Rhys Thomas as hooker. They both join tight-head prop Brok Harris. 

The second row remains unchanged as Matthew Screech and Rynard Landman retain their places, however the back row has two changes. Ben White, who is on loan with the region for three weeks, starts alongside Nic Cudd and Ed Jackson pullson the number eight shirt after recovering from injury.

The replacements bench has four changes made to it as Rhys Buckley, Boris Stankovich, Cory Hill and Sarel Pretorius join Shaun Knight, James Benjamin, Geraint Rhys Jones and Nick Scott.

Form: Ulster's only defeat in their last four fixtures was 17-33 at Saracens in the Champions Cup on 16 January. Ulster slipped up in their most recent Guinness PRO12 home game: 7-9 to Munster in the on 2 January and have not lost back-to-back games in Belfast in the tournament since December 2010. Newport Gwent Dragons beat Leinster 23-13 at Rodney Parade on Friday and have not won successive games in the Guinness PRO12 since last April. Dragons have not won away from home in the competition since a trip to Treviso on 28 March last year. Ulster have lost only one of their last four Guinness PRO12 encounters with Dragons: 22-26 at Rodney Parade on 8 March 2015. The Welshmen have not been victorious in Belfast since September 2008.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Peter Browne, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black. 
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle  McCall, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Nick Williams, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Rory Scholes.

Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Ashton Hewitt, 13 Adam Hughes, 12 Adam Warren, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Angus O’Brien, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ben White, 5 Rynard Landman (c), 4 Matthew Screech, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Elliot Dee, 1 Phil Price. 
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Cory Hill, 20 James Benjamin, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Geraint Rhys Jones, 23 Nick Scott.

Date: Friday, February 5
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant referees: Nigel Correll, Shane Kierans
TMO: Kevin Beggs