RUGBY: Robert Baloucoune set for Ulster debut against Dragons in Guinness PRO14

Ulster's Robert Baloucoune. Pic by John Dickson.
Ulster's Robert Baloucoune. Pic by John Dickson.

Abbey Insurance Academy player Robert Baloucoune will make his senior Ulster debut on Friday night after being named on the wing for the Guinness PRO14 Round 7 game against Dragons at Kingspan Stadium.

The Ireland 7s speedster, who developed his game at Portora Royal School and Enniskillen RFC, is one of three Academy players in the starting team - with fullback Michael Lowry and loosehead prop Eric O’Sullivan (both Banbridge RFC) also included.

Australia international Henry Speight has recovered from a knee injury he picked up against the Cheetahs in September and will join Baloucoune and Lowry in the back three.

Will Addison, who earned his first international call up this week, will partner Stuart McCloskey in midfield, while Dave Shanahan and Johnny McPhillips will combine in the half back positions.

O’Sullivan will pack down alongside his captain and Banbridge clubmate Rory Best, as well as Marty Moore. Iain Henderson and Kieran Treadwell are paired together in the second row, with Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee selected as the loose forward trio.

Rob Herring, who also sustained an injury (toe) against the Cheetahs, has returned to the squad and will provide backup for Best at hooker.

Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Greg Jones, who could feature for the first time since January, are the other forward replacements. Jonny Stewart, Craig Gilroy and Academy winger Angus Kernohan are the backline options for Head Coach Dan McFarland.

Ulster Rugby team to play Dragons (Guinness PRO14 Round 7, October 26, Kingspan Stadium, 7.55pm): M Lowry; R Baloucoune, W Addison, S McCloskey, H Speight; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; E O’Sullivan, R Best (captain), M Moore, I Henderson, K Treadwell, S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.

Replacements (16-23): R Herring, A Warwick, T O’Toole, A O’Connor, G Jones, J Stewart, A Kernohan, C Gilroy.

For Dragons, fly half Jason Tovey has been handed the No.10 jersey.

Tovey - the leading scorer in the region’s history and sixth highest marksman in Guinness PRO14 history – is given a starting jersey after being signed on permit from Cross Keys.

Tovey’s inclusion is one of ten changes for Dragons, with six senior players away on international duty with Wales.

Wing Daf Howells returns after being rested for the European game with Northampton Saints while centre Adam Warren is also recalled.

Will Talbot-Davies will start his first Guinness PRO14 game on the wing, with Zane Kirchner moving to the bench.

Six changes in the pack include a first Dragons start in the Guinness PRO14 for Huw Taylor, who is named at blindside flanker.

Number Eight Harri Keddie will make his first appearance of the season while Nic Cudd also comes into a new-look back row.

Richard Hibbard will captain the side from hooker and pack down with the recalled Lloyd Fairbrother. The final change is a starting spot for lock Matthew Screech.

The bench includes call-ups for lock Joe Davies, back row Taine Basham and a return for fit-again centre Jack Dixon.

DRAGONS: J Williams, D Howells, A Warren, J Sage, W Talbot-Davies, J Tovey, R Williams; B Harris, R Hibbard, L Fairbrother, M Screech, L Evans, H Taylor, N Cudd, H Keddie.

Replacements: R Lawrence, A Jarvis, R Bevington, J Davies, T Basham, T Knoyle, J Dixon, Z Kirchner.