12:58pm Thursday 27th February 2014
STEFFAN Jones will pull the strings for Newport Gwent Dragons in their RaboDirect Pro12 encounter with Ulster at Ravenhill (kick-off 7.05pm), writes Chris Kirwan.
The 23-year-old from Bargoed gets the nod in Belfast as replacement for Jason Tovey, who drops to the bench after being unable to take a full part in preparations after suffering a dead leg in Sunday's terrific 24-23 win against Glasgow.
Jones has been a fringe player for the Dragons this season, making just two starts against London Wasps in the LV= Cup and Italian minnows Mogliano in the Amlin Challenge Cup, but he gets the chance to impress against title-chasing Ulster.
There are three other changes to the side that beat Glasgow at Rodney Parade with Bruce Douglas, who is on loan from Bristol, given his first start at tighthead with his fellow veteran Duncan Bell dropping to the bench.
"It's not easy coming into a new team but they both performed well and gave the boys a platform to play off," said director of rugby Lyn Jones.
"It's a difficult period with three tightheads out so it's a godsend that these boys are with us until the end of the season."
Ross Wardle comes in on the wing for Will Harries, who suffered a concussion on Sunday, while Matthew Screech gets the nod to replace lock Andrew Coombs, who injured a shoulder while training with Wales this week.
Teenage centre Jack Dixon is among the replacements after nearly five months out of action because of a foot injury but Fijian back row forward Netani Talei has still not recovered from a blow to the ribs suffered against Leinster a fortnight ago.
Ulster are boosted by the return of Ireland and Lions wing Tommy Bowe, who has been out since November because of a leg injury.
Fly-half Paddy Jackson and lock Iain Henderson are released from Ireland duty to start in Belfast but the title hopefuls are without a pair of influential Kiwis.
Tighthead John Afoa is absent because of family bereavement and number eight Nick Williams has not been picked after heading back to New Zealand without Ulster's permission and subsequently missing last weekend's win at Treviso.
The hosts are still able to call on the services of classy imports Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and Jared Payne at scrum-half, lock and full-back respectively.
Ulster: J Payne, T Bowe, D Cave, L Marshall, R Scholes, P Jackson, R Pienaar, C Black, R Herring, R Lutton, J Muller (captain), I Henderson, R Diack, S Doyle, R Wilson. Replacements: N Annett, T Court, A Macklin, L Stevenson, M McComish, P Marshall, S McCloskey, D McIlwaine.
Dragons: R Jones, M Pewtner, P Leach, A Smith (captain), R Wardle, S Jones, R Rees, O Evans, R Thomas, B Douglas, M Screech, C Hill, J Groves, N Cudd, L Evans. Replacements: H Gustafson, N Williams, D Bell, R Sidoli, I Jones, W Evans, J Tovey, J Dixon.
Referee: Lloyd Linton (Scotland)
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