Belfast Telegraph

RaboDirect PRO12: Mac's Plan B to slay Newport Gwent Dragons

By Nial Crozier

With four players - three of them backs - injured, Ulster could be forced to make changes for Friday night's RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade (7.05pm).

Darren Cave is out and there are concerns surrounding the participation of Ian Humphreys and Jared Payne. Hooker Andi Kyriacou is expected to be fit, though.

It is an important test for Brian McLaughlin's men, for having surrendered their 100 per cent record by losing 32-14 to Ospreys in Swansea on Sunday, they return to south Wales intent on bouncing back.

Although Cave was named in the 32-strong provisional squad for the game, he will play no part.

A recurrence of his hamstring problem saw him substituted at half-time against Cardiff Blues - a match in which the centre scored two fine first-half tries - and he was then omitted for last weekend's trip to Liberty Stadium.

Coach McLaughlin confirmed he will not be taking any chances with the unfortunate number 13 who began the season so impressively, witness three tries in the opening two-and-a-half matches of the series.

"The likelihood is that we won't risk Darren Cave this weekend," said McLaughlin.

"We won't risk Darren at all. We have too many big games coming up later on - not that this isn't a huge game for us, it is - but we feel that to risk Darren again at this stage with his hamstring, we're better just to make sure that it's 100 per cent right.

"We're hopeful that on Monday he will be back in, preparing with us for Treviso (at Ravenhill on October 7)."

Nor do the problems end there. Humphreys (shoulder) was assessed yesterday and until the results come through later today, Ulster will not know if he is going to be available to face Dragons.

Again McLaughlin stressed that he will take no chances with his first-choice stand-off.

"If there's any doubt at all then the way Paddy Jackson played (against Ospreys) we're quite happy to let him have another crack," he said.

"The more experience he gets, the better, so from that point of view we'll just wait and see about Ian.

"We're not going to rush into anything; we're going to make sure that Ian's 100 per cent."

Kiwi full-back Payne (dead leg) is another doubt, though the news on Kyriacou (neck) is more encouraging. Both exited during the second-half in Swansea.

"Jared's taken a really bad dead leg. Again, if there's any doubt, with Adam D'Arcy in there, we're very happy.

"Again, Jared will have to be perfect," the coach insisted.

"Andi is a lot better today and we're hoping that he'll be okay for the weekend."

Kyriacou is one of four hookers in the squad, the others being Nigel Brady plus fledglings John Burns and Niall Annett.

Replacement scrum-half Ian Porter, who missed out against Ospreys with bruised ribs, is back in contention, though 19-year-old Blane McIlroy, who made his debut in Swansea, will hope to have earned another run.

While Ulster have won three of their first four matches, Dragons' record is a solitary victory.

That said, Ulster are the last side to have beaten them at home in this competition - 20-13 back in May.

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