Preview: Ulster v Dragons

Date published: September 1 2016

Ulster boss Les Kiss has named a strong starting XV for Friday's PRO12 encounter with the Dragons at Kingspan Stadium.

Academy prop Ross Kane, Charles Piutau and Brett Herron are in line to make their competitive debuts for the province, while Ireland internationals Craig Gilroy, Stuart Olding and Sean Reidy return to the team for the first time this season.

Rodney Ah You is unavailable for selection having suffered delayed onset concussive symptoms following Friday's 29-19 win over Northampton Saints and he will now follow the concussion return to play protocol.

With fellow tighthead props Wiehahn Herbst, Ricky Lutton and Jonny Simpson also injured, Kane has been elevated into a starting position.

The 21-year-old will be joined in in the front row by Callum Black and Rob Herring, who will again skipper the side from hooker. Pete Browne and Franco van der Merwe will continue their combination in the second row.

Reidy's inclusion at openside flanker leads to a re-shuffle in the back row, with Clive Ross moving to blindside and Roger Wilson continuing at number eight.

Herron will partner Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half, while Stuart McCloskey and Stuart Olding will form an exciting midfield partnership. Piutau, Craig Gilroy and Ireland U20 star Jacob Stockdale will occupy the back three positions. Louis Ludik was unavailable for selection because of a hand injury picked up against Northampton.

John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Andy Warwick, Alan O'Connor and Robbie Diack will provide forward reinforcements from the bench, with Paul Marshall, Sam Windsor and Robert Lyttle, who is also in line for a competitive debut, offering backline cover.

Meanwhile, Dragons head coach Kingsley Jones has also named a competitive matchday squad for their season opener.

The Men of Gwent go into this match after playing three difficult pre-season friendlies against hard-hitting Premiership side Exeter Chiefs, Ealing Trailfinders and Cardiff Blues.

Once again Carl Meyer is selected at full-back alongside wingers Adam Warren and Pat Howard. The centre partnership also remains unchanged with newcomer Sam Beard getting the nod alongside Jack Dixon. The half-backs also stay the same as Nick Macleod and Sarel Pretorius retain their positions.

The front row sees newcomers Sam Hobbs and Craig Mitchell come into play alongside hooker Thomas Rhys Thomas. The second row sees a mixture of youth and experience as Cory Hill joins forces with Rynard Landman, whilst the back row consists of flankers Ollie Griffiths, Nic Cudd and number eight Ed Jackson.

Young flanker Ollie Griffiths is looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead this season.

"My first game for the Dragons was Ulster away," he said.

"Ulster always have a good crowd and are a strong team with a lot to offer so it will be a challenge, but the Exeter game should stand us in good stead, especially the first 50 minutes.

"Exeter are one of the best teams we will come up against all season so sharpen up a few things and we will be in with a good shout."

Looking at the appearances he has made for the region, Griffiths continued: "I don’t mind whether it’s 6 or 7 as long as I am out there on the park.

"As soon as I started getting a run of games together last season I did my hamstring so it’s just good being back out there with the boys.

"I like getting my hands on the ball and carrying, so a fast game suits me. We’ve had a good exciting style of play in pre-season and I hope that we can continue that into the season and build on it."

The replacements bench sees the return of skipper Lewis Evans and Welsh international Tyler Morgan. They join Rhys Buckley, Tom Davies, Lloyd Fairbrother, Nick Crosswell, Charlie Davies and Angus O’Brien.

Form: Ulster have lost just once on the opening weekend of the PRO12 since 2009: 8-15 to the Dragons in Newport in 2013. The Ulstermen were defeated by Leinster in Dublin in last season’s semi-finals, but finished the regular season with a run of four straight victories. The Dragons are in the midst of their worst ever sequence of results in the PRO12 having lost their last ten encounters since beating Leinster at Rodney Parade on 29 January, whilst their most recent away win in the Championship came on a trip to Treviso in March 2015. Ulster have lost just one of their last five contests with Dragons: 22-26 at Rodney Parade in March 2015 whilst the Welshmen have not been victorious at Kingspan Stadium since a 16-14 win in September 2008. 

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Stuart Olding, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Brett Herron, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Ross Kane, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Kyle McCall, 18 Andy Warwick, 19 Alan O'Connor, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Sam Windsor, 23 Robert Lyttle

Dragons: 15 Carl Meyer, 14 Adam Warren, 13 Sam Beard, 12 Jack Dixon, 11 Pat Howard, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Nic Cudd, 6 Ollie Griffiths, 5 Rynard Landman, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Thomas Rhys Thomas (c), 1 Sam Hobbs
Replacements: 16 Rhys Buckley, 17 Tom Davies, 18 Lloyd Fairbrother, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Lewis Evans, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Angus O’Brien, 23 Tyler Morgan

Date: Friday, September 2
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Helen O’Reilly (Ireland)
TMO: Stefano Penne (Italy)