There’s nothing like being tossed in at the deep end on the rugby succession ladder; such is the case for 21-year-old Ross Kane who will make his Ulster debut this evening in the opening Guinness PRO12 clash of the season when Newport-Gwent Dragons visit Kingspan Stadium (7.35pm kick-off).
Still wet between the ears as far as senior rugby is concerned, the Ballymena prop, who is part of the Ulster Academy, will get more of an inkling of what rugby is really like in the dark corridors of the front row.
Director of rugby Les Kiss had little option but to give the number three jersey to the Bangor-born prop after yet another injury-ravaged start to the season for Ulster.
New signing Rodney Ah You, Wiehahn Herbst, Ricky Lutton, and Jonny Simpson are all out injured, and with yesterday’s new short-term signing, Georgian prop Anton Peikrishvilii, still unavailable, Kane has a big load to bear.
Ah You was the latest injury woe after a delayed onset of concussion following last week’s pre-season win against Northampton. He will now follow return-to-play protocol.
At least Kiss has been allowed to field three internationals in Stuart Olding, who will partner Stuart McCloskey in midfield; winger Craig Gilroy who takes over from the injured Louis Ludik; and flanker Sean Reidy, while Ruan Pienaar, is passed fit to start after a recent elbow injury.
Hooker Rob Herring leads the side, which also sees full-back Charles Piutau and fly-half Brett Herron make their full competitive debuts.
“I just can’t wait to start. It has been a long pre-season and now looking forward to some proper games,” said Herring, now official skipper of Ulster in tandem with Andrew Trimble.
“During the Exeter game we were not on the money at all, but we regrouped and came back really well against Northampton.
“They have taken a lot of confidence going into this game and everyone is raring to go. However, it won’t be easy,” said Herring of a Dragons team that has a new coaching set-up and have recruited well.
Ulster: C Piutau; C Gilroy, S Olding, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Herron, R Pienaar; C Black, R Herring, capt, R Kane, P Browne, F van der Merwe, C Ross, S Reidy, R Wilson;
Replacements: J Andrew, K McCall, A Warwick, A O’Connor, R Diack, P Marshall, S Windsor, R Lyttle.
Dragons: C Meyer; A Warren; S Beard, J Dixon, P Howard; N Macleod, S Pretorius; S Hobbs, T Rhys Thomas, capt, C Mitchell, C Hill, R Landman, O Griffiths, N Cudd, E Jackson.
Replacements: R Buckley, T Davies, L Fairbrother, N Crosswell, L Evans, C Davies, A O’Brien, T Morgan.
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