Just over 18 months ago Robert Balacoune was playing with junior club side, Enniskillen, in the final of the Ulster Towns’ Cup against Ballynahinch II.
The Fermanagh lad will return to Kingspan Stadium on Friday night and make his Ulster senior debut in the Guinness PRO14 against Dragons (7:55pm) - the first from the county since Jimmy McCoy to do so.
The Ireland Sevens speedster, who developed his game at the former Portora Royal School is part of the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy and has featured strongly in the recent Celtic Cup tournament with Ulster ‘A’.
It was a totally unexpected selection by head coach Dan McFarland with both Craig Gilroy and Jacob Stockdale not included in the starting XV for the visit of the Welsh side.
“He is a very exciting talent. We have watched his progress through the summer and the ‘A’ games and has done a really good job,
“He really deserves his place. His school and club will be really proud of what he has done and achieved and they should be.”
McFarland added: “Robert is obviously a very talented player. He is quick, has good skills, something that has been nurtured in the sevens programme.
“He is also a very brave player, as you have to be if you have been in the sevens environment. There is nowhere to hide if you miss tackles in sevens.
“He showed us those and we know those attributes, so that is why he is also going to be on the pitch.”
The other wing tonight will be occupied by Australian Henry Speight who returns from injury.
Will Addison, who earned his first international call up this week, will partner Stuart McCloskey in midfield, while Dave Shanahan and Johnny McPhillips will combine in the half back positions.
Fly-half Jason Tovey will start for Dragons after re-joining the club for a third spell as injury cover for Arwel Robson and Gavin Henson.
Tovey’s inclusion is one of 10 changes made by Dragons head coach Bernard Jackman with left-wing Will Talbot-Davies set to make his first PRO14 start while Dafydd Howells and Adam Warren also return to the backline.
Ulster: Lowry; Baloucoune, Addison, McCloskey, Speight; McPhillips, Shanahan; O’Sullivan, Best (capt), Moore; Henderson, Treadwell; Reidy, Murphy, Coetzee
Replacements: Herring, Warwick, O’Toole, O’Connor, Jones, Stewart, Kernohan, Gilroy
Dragons: J Williams; Howells, Warren, Sage, Talbot-Davies; Tovey, R Williams; Harris, Hibbard (capt), Fairbrother; Screech, Evans; Taylor, Cudd, Keddie
Replacements: Lawrence, Jarvis, Bevington, Davies, Basham, Knoyle, Dixon, Kirchner