Ross Kane handed big chance for Ulster against Northampton Saints at Kingspan Stadium

Robert Lyttle has been handed the chance to impress for Ulster
Robert Lyttle has been handed the chance to impress for Ulster

Academy prop Ross Kane will be thrust into the coalface on Friday night when Ulster meet Northampton Saints at Kingspan Stadium.

The Irish Province have a mini injury crisis in the tighthead prop position and with Ulster ‘A’ also playing Canada ‘A’ as a curtain raiser to the senior match, resources have been stretched.

Kane, from Bangor, will almost certainly get some game time and the chance to get a flavour on life in the front row against the crack English Premiership outfit.

Ulster have already lost two pre-season friendlies on the road and director of rugby, Les Kiss, is expecting his first home hit-out of the season to end in a more favourable result.

A victory over the Saints would give Ulster the little boost they need ahead of going into next week’s Guinness PRO12 League opener against Newport Gwent Dragons in Belfast.

The double header on Friday gives Kiss and his management team the ideal opportunity to glance over their charges once again.

Kiss said: “It was important we gave enough players to have a chance in the pre-season build-up.

“We had the extra game against Leinster which allowed the young players to play and show us what they had.

“We have the Canada ‘A’ game this week on top of the senior game and that ensures everyone is given an opportunity to raise their game.”

Kiss was disappointed to lose last week’s game in Exeter, but felt the last 20 minutes was a better reflection of where the side are at.

“There were guys who put their hands up last week and they are going to challenge some guys at the top to really focus on what they need to improve on.

“It is exactly the environment we want to have here at Kingspan.”

One player who gets a massive opportunity on the senior side is winger, Robert Lyttle.

He came off the bench last week and scored a breace of tries as Ulster reduced the decifict to 25-19 against Exeter.

The Hughes Insurance Academy youngester starts on the left wing against Saints tonight.

The only other newcomer to the backline is Paul Marshall, who will step into scrumhalf after Ruan Pienaar picked up an elbow injury last Saturday.

It will be a first Kingspan Stadium appearance for All Black Charles Piutau, who will line out at fullback.

Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave are retained in midfield, with Brett Herron at outhalf and Louis Ludik occupying the right wing berth.

Loosehead prop Andy Warwick has been introduced to the starting XV in what is the only change to the forward pack.

The Ballymena man will be joined in the front row by captain Rob Herring and Rodney Ah You.

Pete Browne and Franco van der Merwe continue their second row partnership, and Robbie Diack, Clive Ross and Roger Wilson are again included in the back row department.

Kiss added: “This game will wrap up pre-season and the fixture schedule has given some of our young players a chance to play against top Premiership opposition.

“I’m pleased to see Ross Kane get an opportunity for the seniors after injuries to three of our tightheads.

Ulster: C Piutau; L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Herron, P Marshall;

A Warwick, R Herring (captain), R Ah You, P Browne, F van der Merwe, R Diack, C Ross, R Wilson;

Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, R Kane, A O’Connor, C Joyce, M Rea, D Shanahan, S Windsor, J Stockdale.