Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Ulster have point to prove

Declan Fitzpatrick's return to fitness is a major boost to Ulster coach Mark Anscombe

With Ulster’s record against Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade being a solitary victory in their past six visits, coach Mark Anscombe is hoping to see his table-topping troops put an end to that dismal run on Friday night.

Anscombe’s men have a point to proveHe’s back: Declan Fitzpatrick’s return to fitness is a major boost to Ulster coach Marc Anscombe WITH Ulster’s record against Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade being a solitary victory in their past six visits, coach Mark Anscombe is hoping to see his table-topping troops put an end to that dismal run on Friday night.

Such an outcome would be timely, for with the Guinness Autumn International Series looming, this will be Ulster's last chance to deploy their big-name players ahead of the exodus.

In the absence of skipper Johann Muller, who suffered a thumb ligament injury against Glasgow at the weekend and is likely to be out for the next two months, Chris Henry will lead the side.

His heads a particularly strong group, with No. 8 Roger Wilson named in the extended Ulster squad for the first time since re-joining from Northampton Saints during the summer.

After a match-and-a-half of action for the Ravens against Bridgend and Bristol — against whom he scored a brace of tries — the powerful back row forward has done enough to persuade Anscombe that he is ready to return to the big stage.

Tight-head Declan Fitzpatrick has recovered from his medial ligament injury. To date this season he has made one appearance, against Ospreys on September 8. Finally, having participated in full training over the past week, he should get some much-needed game-time on Friday night.

For the third week in a row, blindside flanker Stephen Ferris is included, but with a back injury having ruled him out of the Heineken Cup games against Castres and Glasgow, Ulster supporters now know better than to get their hopes up too high.

Their misgivings are understandable, for he was in the extended squads for those two matches. Indeed, Ferris was named in the team for the October 12, but was pulled out shortly before kick-off.

Niall O’Connor is also named in 26-strong panel, with the starting 15 and eight replacements being announced at noon tomorrow.

Friday night’s protagonists’ results this season are in stark contrast: pace-setting Ulster boast a 100 per cent record having won all seven of their competitive matches to date. Dragons, however, are second-bottom of the PRO12 after losing four of their six matches in the competition.

The only success in their last seven matches in all competitions was their 32-12 home win over Edinburgh on September 28.

Last year, Wales proved a fruitless hunting ground for Ulster who lost on all four of their visits, but already this season they have beaten defending champions Ospreys and then Cardiff Blues on their own pitches.

Those victories, coupled with their home form, mean they have won five of their last six matches against Welsh regions.

Anscombe does not underestimate the challenge, however.

“We’re going to be without our international players for a while after it so this is an important match,” he said.

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