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Stevenson leads strong Ravens side in opener

By Michael Sadlier

While European action holds sway this weekend, the rather less admired British and Irish Cup also returns for its first round of games tonight with the Ulster Ravens travelling to Cornish Pirates (kick-off 7.45pm).

Ravens coach Allen Clarke has selected a strong-looking side for the Pool Six opener with skipper Lewis Stevenson and flanker Mike McComish bringing plenty of know-how with them to what could be a tricky game in Penzance.

The Ravens pack is also boosted by having Paddy McCallister at loose-head as well as Niall Annett at hooker and Neil McComb at number eight. Wth Conor Joyce making up the back row combination it means that Sean Doyle has to be content with a place on the bench.

Sitting nearby will be Ian Porter, who is also a replacement for tonight's game as Michael Heaney has got the nod at scrum half, while James McKinney is outside him.

The Ulster second string will hope to unleash the strong running of Chris Farrell, who is in the midfield with Rickie Andrew, while the back three of David McIlwaine and wingers Chris Cochrane and Peter Nelson have plenty of pace should they be find space in the wide channels or through angled runs inside.

Clarke will be looking to improve on last season's showing when the Ravens failed to qualify for the latter stages and his charges will need to be sharp at the Mennaye Field against a Pirates side that has lost only once after four rounds of the English Championship which sees them sit fourth in the table.

The Pirates also have ex-Ulster player Kieran Hallet on the bench.

This season's B&I Cup has yet again undergone a restructuring and in addition to playing the Pirates home and away they will do the same with Ayr and Jersey with the Channel Islanders having former Ulster players Niall O'Connor and Mark McCrea on their books.

"It's very tough down there and Lewis (Stevenson) has played a lot against the Pirates and knows they will be tough to beat," said flanker Joyce.

Ulster Ravens: D McIlwaine, C Cochrane, R Andrew, C Farrell, P Nelson, J McKinney, M Heaney; P McCallister, N Annett, B Ross, A O'Connor, L Stevenson (capt), C Joyce, M McComish, N McComb. Replacements: J Murphy, M Cromie, F Taggart, S Doyle, I Porter, S McCloskey, D Bugsby.

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