Ulster backline expected to shine as Pro12 kicks off

Les Kiss expects Ruan Pienaar and others to front up against Newport Gwent Dragons

Ulster v Newport Gwent Dragons. Kingspan Stadium 7.35. On TV: BBC Two

Ross Kane, a 21-year-old academy prop, will make his competitive debut for Ulster in their opening Guinness Pro12 fixture. Injuries to props Wiehahn Herbst, Ricky Lutton and Jonny Simpson means the Queen's University Belfast student, who has represented Ulster at several age-grade levels and previously captained Methody to a Schools Senior Cup win, is handed a debut.

New Zealand-born Ireland international Rodney Ah You, who joined from Connacht in the summer, is also unavailable 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.

Ulster coach Les Kiss has also handed competitive debuts to 20-year-old outhalf Brett Herron, who joined from Bath, and former All Black Charles Piutau, already a favourite in Belfast. Indeed Ulster's backline is endowed with some of the most talented players in the country.


Outstanding performer

Craig Gilroy, Stuart Olding and Stuart McCloskey possesses the skills to enthrall while Jacob Stockdale was an outstanding performer in the Ireland side that reached the Under-20 World Cup final in Manchester. Ruan Pienaar's name is sure to be cheered to the rafters, the popular and hugely influential scrumhalf, happily recovered from injury.

Sean Reidy, who won a first Irish cap during the summer tour to South Africa, is named in the backrow that sees Clive Ross switch to blindside flanker to accommodate his return.

The Dragons lost Talupe Faletau to Bath during the off season and have warmed up with pre-season friendlies against Exeter Chiefs, Ealing Trailfinders and Cardiff Blues.

Ulster struggled to overcome the Welsh side, only winning both matches narrowly last season. If they can get a reasonable platform upfront, the have a surfeit of quality behind the scrum to capitalise.

Verdict: Ulster

ULSTER: C Piutau; C Gilroy, S Olding, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Herron, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring (capt), R Kane; P Browne, F van der Merwe; C Ross, S Reidy, R Wilson. Replacements: J Andrew, K McCall, A Warwick, A O'Connor, R Diack, P Marshall, S Windsor, R Lyttle.

DRAGONS: C Meyer; A Warren, S Beard, J Dixon, P Howard; N Macleod, S Pretorius; S Hobbs, T Rhys Thomas (capt), C Mitchell; C Hill, R Landman; O Griffiths, N Cudd, E Jackson. Replacements: R Buckley, T Davies, L Fairbrother, N Crosswell, L Evans, C Davies, A O'Brien, T Morgan.

Referee: M Mitrea (Italy)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer