Ulster focus on ending traumatic week on a high

Ulster have been rocked by the loss of influential skipper Johann Muller ahead of tonight’s RaboDirect Pro12 League clash against the Dragons at Ravenhill.

Muller picked up a calf injury during training on Wednesday and, following an MRI scan, it was decided not to risk the former Springbok skipper, who could be out of action for another couple of weeks.

Following the off-field shenanigan’s regarding the future of coach Brian McLaughlin, Ulster had hoped to field their strongest starting line-up.

“Naturally, we have heard and read everything that has been going on with the coach, but to be honest you would not have thought there was anything wrong during training,” said one player who wished to remain anonymous.

“Ever since the story broke, the coach has been just the same with his normal professional attitude. Fair play to him, many a person would have been affected by it all.”

McLaughlin, who has put a traumatic week behind him, is under no illusions about the task ahead, even though the Dragons have lost their last 10 RaboDirect games on the road.

“It’s good to be back at Ravenhill in front of our home crowd, but form counts for very little when you’re playing the Dragons,” said McLaughlin. “They are always difficult to beat and they will be as determined as ever to stop the rot. Remember they defeated us 22-9 earlier in the season.

“Yes, we are delighted to have the guys away with Ireland, it’s important individuals get recognition for their performances with Ulster. But with those guys away, it gives others a chance to come in and push themselves. It’s important we give as many opportunities as possible to players as we have to be in a position where we have depth in each area.”

Lewis Stevenson packs down alongside Tuohy as Muller’s replacement while All Black prop John Afoa takes over the captaincy for the first time. Loose-head Callum Black makes only his second start thisseason with AndiKyriacou alongside him at hooker. Adam D’Arcy starts at full-back allowing former Springbok Stefan Terblanche move to the left wing and he will come up against former Ulster player, Ballymena-born Jamie Smith.

Meanwhile, the Dragons have named Ashley Smith to lead their side.

Adam Jones and Rob Sidoli bothreturn in the second row having been rested after a busy December andJanuary period. Back row Gavin Thomas has recovered from injury.

Ulster: A D’Arcy; C Gilroy, I Whitten, P Wallace, S Terblanche; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; C Black, A Kyriacou, J Afoa (capt), L Stevenson, D Tuohy, M McComish, W Faloon, R Diack. Replacements: N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, A Birch, P Marshall, N Spence, S Danielli.

Dragons: M Thomas, J Smith, A Hughes, A Smith, capt, A Brew, J Tovey, Wayne Evans: N Williams, S Jones, N Buck, A Jones, R Sidoli, J Groves, D Waters, G Thomas. Replacements: R Buckley, P Price, D Way, H Ellis, T Brown, J Bedford, A Tuilagi, L Robling.

Referee: C Damasco (Italy).

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