Ireland centre Darren Cave will lead Ulster in tomorrow’s Guinness Pro12 clash away to Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade.
Cave has made 154 appearances for the province — in contrast to new signing Mike Stanley who makes his provincial debut inside centre.
The inclusion of Samoan fly-half Stanley in the midfield alongside Cave is due to the five-week ban handed out to Luke Marshall for a stamping incident while the province are also without the suspended Stuart McCloskey.
Ireland lock Iain Henderson is also utilised following Roger Wilson’s one-match ban as he packs down at blindside. But it is the call-up of Stanley by head coach Neil Doak of a seriously-depleted squad that catches the eye. Centre is not a position Stanley is acquainted with. “Everything is going really well at the moment,” said the 25-year-old New Zealand-born Stanley. “It’s all about learning the calls. I’ve had great help from Darren and Iain Humphreys, I’ve just picked their brains in training. I have played at 12 before, but not for quite a while. But I’m quite comfortable there.”
Stanley is already on something of a learning curve since his recent arrival in Ireland. “I didn’t know anything about Ulster. I knew the Irish fans were so passionate, and I got a taste for that last week. That is what pushed me in this direction. It was easy to make up my mind once the offer was made. It was a case of finding out about it on the Monday and be on the plane by Thursday. There are no regrets so far. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time here and I’ve been hugely impressed with the set-up. This is easily the most scientific club I’ve ever been a part of. All I want now is a little bit more game time.”
And Stanley hopes that good displays will be rewarded with a call up to Samoa’s World Cup squad. “I am anxious to make the squad. Last Friday was my first game for three months, so it has been a while to brush the cobwebs off. I’m due to have a visit from the head coach Alama Ieremia, who was also an All Black. It good have him involved in the set-up now as a former Samoan international.”
Ulster bid for a fifth successive win in the Pro12 as they hope to maintain third spot as the race for the play-offs heats up.
Meanwhile, the Dragons have only won two of their last five home games, although they put one over the visiting Ulster side this time last season.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: G Rhys Jones; T Prydie, J Dixon, A Smith, H Amos, D Jones, J Evans; B Stankovich, T. Rhys Thomas (c), B Harris, A Coombs, C Hill, J Thomas, J Benjamin, N Crosswell.
Replacements: Rhys Buckley, Phil Price, Lloyd Fairbrother, Matthew Screech, Scott Matthews, Luc Jones, Carl Meyer, Ashton Hewitt.
ULSTER: L Ludik; C Gilroy, D Cave (capt), M Stanley, M Allen, I Humphreys, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring, W Herbst, D Tuohy, F Van der Merwe, I Henderson, C Ross, N Williams.
Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick, B Ross, L Stevenson, R Diack, P Marshall, S Arnold, R Scholes.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU).