Ulster eye All Black to replace Botha
Ulster are close to securing the services of an All Black tight-head following the loss of South African BJ Botha to Munster.
It is understood that Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys travelled to New Zealand last week to seal the deal and, although the identity of his target is a closely guarded secret, it is believed to be a member of the current All Blacks squad.
Sources indicate that Humphreys met up with former Ulster hooker Matt Sexton, now head of development at the Crusaders.
It is believed that Ulster's intended signing is capable of playing both sides of the scrum, which would fit the profile of Ben Franks, currently on the books at the Crusaders.
Although Franks would appear to most closely fit the bill, other possibilities are his brother Owen, Neemia Tialata and John Afoa.
Meanwhile, Ireland U-20 star Paddy Jackson could make his second senior start for Ulster when they face the Dragons in the Magners League on Friday night.
With Ian Humphreys still troubled with a hamstring problem, coach Brian McLaughlin may not be prepared to risk his first-choice fly-half, with the Heineken Cup clash against Northampton looming next month. Jackson acquitted himself very well on his debut against the Scarlets a few weeks ago.
Second-row Dan Tuohy (quad tear) and Academy prop Adam Macklin (broken ankle) return from injury. Robbie Diack is also back and will start at No 8 in place of Pedrie Wannenburg, who was married last week in Durban. Mark McCrea, Darren Cave and new face Conor Gaston are all included in the squad.
The Dragons clash was originally scheduled at the beginning of December but was called off due to the weather.