Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has finalised his team and replacements for their first Heineken Cup Pool 4 opener against Aironi Rugby at Ravenhill on Friday (kick-off 7.30pm).
Ulster’s starting line-up for their opening Heineken Cup clash with Aironi Rugby shows just two changes to the side that started last weekend’s league win over Glasgow Warriors.
Ian Humphreys comes in at out-half to replace Niall O’Connor and make his first start of the season, while in the second row, Tim Barker gets the nod and Dan Tuohy will start from the replacements bench.
Prop BJ Botha, who sustained a wrist injury against Connacht recently, had been named in the extended squad but suffered a setback earlier in the week and has consequently not been included.
Ulster’s new South African contingent of Ruan Pienaar, Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg will make their Heineken Cup debuts from scrum half, lock and blindside flanker respectively.
There are three other newcomers to European rugby on the Ulster bench, in the form of props Paddy McAllister and Alan Whitten and winger David McIlwaine – all aged 21.
Muller, who has captained Ulster in the absence of Rory Best this season, said: “I’ve followed the Heineken Cup for the past five or six years from South Africa. It’s a wonderful tournament with a great history and tradition attached to it.
“I know it’s going to be a different intensity to what we have seen so far but I’m ready for that.
“When it’s time to step up, you’ve got to lift your performance in order to cope with the increased physicality and speed of the game at that higher level.
“The Heineken Cup is a big occasion for everyone and just as I hope the supporters will see a big difference in the level of our performance, so I think we will see a difference in the intensity of the support.”
Gates at Ravenhill will open at 6pm. Tickets will be available to purchase on the night.
ULSTER (v Aironi Rugby): Jamie Smith; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Bryan Young, Rory Best (capt), Tom Court, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Alan Whitten, Dan Tuohy, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine.