Jared Payne returns to Ulster squad for Italy trip
Centre Stuart McCloskey signs first senior contract with province
Jared Payne has returned to the Ulster squad for the province’s trip to play Benetton Treviso. (Photograph: INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Ulster have named two changes from the side beaten by Leinster at the RDS last weekend for tomorrow’s trip to Italy to play Benetton Treviso.
Franco van der Merwe is absent for the first time this season due to a chest infection meaning Alan O’Connor will start alongside Dan Tuohy, who signed a new three-year deal with the province yesterday.
Tommy Bowe has recovered from a dead leg to join Ludik and Craig Gilroy in the back three, while the midfield and halfback partnerships of Darren Cave and Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar also start.
Van der Merwe aside the pack remains unchanged from last weekend’s defeat, with Rory Best leading the side from hooker alongside Wiehann Herbst and Callum Black, while Roger Wilson, Robbie Diack and Clive Ross make up the backrow.
Stuart McCloskey has signed his first senior contract with Ulster Rugby that will see him remain with the province until at least the summer of 2017.
“Every young rugby player wants to play for the first team and wants to sign a professional contract and I feel very fortunate now to have done both of those things with the province that I am from and that I support,” said the former Bangor Grammar School pupil today.
“We have a fantastic group of players, great facilities and excellent coaches so signing the contract was not a difficult decision. As at every top rugby side, competition for starting places is high, but I am aiming to play as much rugby as possible over the next two seasons and to help Ulster be successful.”
The powerful centre (22) is a product of the Ulster Academy and debuted against Newport Gwent Dragons in February last year, making 12 appearances since. He has been selected for the Emerging Ireland tour of Romania.
“Ever since he made his debut last season, Stuart has looked completely at home in an Ulster shirt,” Ulster Rugby team manager Bryn Cunningham said. “He has all the talents and physical attributes required to make it to the very top – his pace, huge strength and skill have resulted in him causing problems for every defence he has been up against.
“He is only going to get better and I am extremely pleased that this talented young player has committed his future to Ulster Rugby.”
Ulster: L Ludik; T Bowe, D Cave, S Olding, C Gilroy, P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best, W Herbst, A O’Connor, D Tuohy, R Diack, C Ross, R Wilson
Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, B Ross, L Stevenson, S Reidy, P Marshall, J Payne, P Nelson