Under-strength Ulster should be strong enough
The Belfast side are missing a number of their big name international players
Ulster’s Andrew Trimble who will be on the wing against the Dragons in Wales tonight. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/INPHO/Presseye
Ulster lost four matches last year to Leinster’s five and then topped the table. But the Dublin team carried off the trophy. Hard bitten by the play-off system Ulster, like Leinster, open their account in Wales tonight with a long game view.
But coach Mark Anscombe will do it without All Black tighthead prop John Afoa, Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, Irish trio Tommy Bowe, Stuart Olding and Craig Gilroy as well as last season’s revelation New Zealand number eight, Nick Williams, who has had to return home for family reasons.
Anscombe has picked Paddy Jackson at outhalf in the only change from the backline that lost in last weekend’s pre-season friendly against Leicester. He partners Paul Marshall at scrumhalf.
Jared Payne starts at fullback, with Andrew Trimble and David McIlwaine on the wings, Chris Farrell and Luke Marshall the centre combination.
Ulster has a strong back five and will look there for inspiration and direction with captain Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy paired in the second row, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry and Roger Wilson making up the backrow.
“Our away form was good last year and the challenge this year is to match that. Each year teams with get better and stronger from their recruitment so last year counts for nothing,” said Anscombe. “It’s a fresh season and we just have to concentrate on preparing for the Dragons.”
Ulster have won the last three meetings, two in Ravenhill and one in Wales stretching back to last December and are set for another valuable away win.
NEWPORT: D Evans; P Leach, J Dixon, H Amos, J Tovey; R Rees, A Coundley; T Rhy Thomas, D Way, M Screech, A Coombs, J Groves, N Cudd, L Evans. Replacements: H Gustafson, P Price, N Tetaz Chaparro, A Jones, N Talei, J Evans, K Burton, R Wardle.
ULSTER: J Payne: A Trimble, L Marshall, C Farrell, D McIlwaine; P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring, R Lutton, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson. Replacements: N Annett, T Court, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, S Doyle, I Porter, J McKinney, D Cave.
Referee: Claudio Blessano (Italy).
Verdict: Ulster win.