Les Kiss shuffles deck to mix youth and experience
Ulster's new Director of Rugby Les Kiss has rung the changes ahead of his first game in charge of the province, away to Newport Gwent Dragons tomorrow afternoon (2.30pm).
The Australian - who served as Ireland's assistant coach from 2009 until last week - started at the Kingspan Stadium on Monday and has made seven changes to the starting side that narrowly lost to Munster last Friday as Rory Best and Ruan Pienaar take their place on the bench after returning from the World Cup.
With the Champions Cup campaign set to start against Oyonnax next week, there is no place in the 23, however, for Andrew Trimble, who left the field last week with a hamstring issue and continues to be monitored for a hip flexor complaint. Roger Wilson, Nick Williams, Callum Black and Andy Warwick are also out, while Craig Gilroy is on the bench.
Rory Scholes and Sam Arnold, who replaced Trimble at Thomond Park, come into the side on the wings looking to make an impression at a position where Ulster are accustomed to fielding seasoned internationals in recent seasons.
The pack is a blend of experience and youth with Chris Henry making his first start of the season after his own World Cup exploits and Robbie Diack back from a thigh injury to take the place of Wilson in the No.6 jersey.
The final member of the back-row is debutant Stephen Mulholland.
The Ballymena No.8 impressed for the his club, as well as the second string, over the course of last season and he appeared in the second-half of the pre-season friendly defeat to Leinster back in August.
Up front it is a similar story with the familiar faces of stand-in captain Rob Herring and tighthead Wiehahn Herbst joined at the coalface by Kyle McCall.
The prop will be making his fifth appearance for the senior side with his only outing last year coming in the under-strength panel that lost to Glasgow at Scotstoun in the final game of the regular season.
After his impressive cameo last week, Dan Tuohy partners Franco van der Merwe in the second-row in what is the lock's first start since the concussion he suffered in the defeat to Edinburgh last month.
Peter Nelson is retained at fullback with Louis Ludik still out with a hand injury while Darren Cave and Stuart McCloskey are again partnered in the midfield.
Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson will pull the strings from half-back after leading the attack well in the four-try performance against Munster.
Joining experienced internationals Best, Pienaar and Gilroy among the replacements will be Lewis Stevenson, Ricky Lutton, Bronson Ross, Sean Reidy and Ian Humphreys.