Ulster look for improved performance against Dragons

Ulster's Tommy Bowe
Ulster's Tommy Bowe

Although Ulster have spluttered over the line in their last two RaboDirect PRO12 outings taking victories in both has seen them climb into third place in the standings.

The 10-7 win over the Ospreys was as horrible as the weather conditions were at Ravenhill three weeks ago, but the victory was crucial as it came against the club just sitting above them in the table at the time.

Last week in Italy, Ulster produced a limp effort, but again held on to take a 14-12 win.

That result coupled with defeats for Glasgow and Ospreys ensured Mark Anscombe’s team secured third place in the table.

Ulster traditionally stutter during the Six Nations windows with players away on international duty and others in and out on a regular basis at training camps.

Newport Gwent Dragons, who shocked Glasgow last week in a 24-23 win, are the visitors to Ravenhill on Friday night with the Welsh side looking to deny Ulster a straight 11th home success and a rare league double over the Irish Province.

Boosted by the release from Ireland of outhalf, Paddy Jackson and lock, Iain Henderson, as well as British Lion winger Tommy Bowe returning after a three month lay-off with a groin injury - Ulster are strong favourites to do the business.

It is timely given Ulster had a five-day turnaround from their game against Treviso on Sunday - which was shortened further following a delay with their flight back on Monday.

That turnaround, availability of players and disappointing displays from some players led head coach Anscombe into making five changes to the side which won against Treviso and one positional switch.

Jackson comes straight into the side at outhalf and Ruan Pienaar will revert to scrumhalf after his second outing starting at No 10 last week.

The other change in the backline comes on the wing, with young exciting prospect, Rory Scholes getting his first competitive start after two cameos off the bench.

With Bowe - who last played with Ireland at the end of November against New Zealand - coming into the other wing, Craig Gilroy and Michael Allen are both dropped from the matchday 23 completely.

Up front, Callum Black gets the start ahead of Tom Court and Henderson comes straight into the second row to partner skipper, Johann Muller.

With Nick Williams suspended as an internal investigation continues into alleged unathorised absence, the backrow remains the same.

The only changes to the bench see David McIlwaine return to the panel and uncapped 21-year-old Academy player Stuart McCloskey can get his first appearance for the club if he is called on.

Anscombe was still unhappy with the performance against Treviso saying this week: “It is about taking responsibility for what we need to do and we’ve got two or three guys on the fringe of the national team who have to show that they are international quality players and maybe a few of them haven’t done that in the last few weeks!”

“We need to get it right against the Dragons on Friday night,” he added.