Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has made seven changes to his team for the first European Champions Cup game of the season, away to Oyonnax on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 2pm local time/1pm Irish time).
Ireland wingers Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy return to the side for the clash at Stade Charles-Mathon. They will feature in the back-three alongside full-back Peter Nelson, who makes his Champions Cup debut at full-back.
Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson will start together at half-back for the first time this season, while Luke Marshall and Darren Cave will line out together in the centre. Stuart McCloskey, the province’s October Player of the Month, is rested after seven successive starts.
Les Kiss has rewarded young prop Kyle McCall with his first European cap, following an impressive display at loosehead against the Newport Gwent Dragons last Sunday. Captain Rory Best returns at hooker in place of Rob Herring, while Ricky Lutton will make his first European start at tighthead.
Dan Tuohy and Franco van der Merwe continue their second row partnership, while Robbie Diack and Chris Henry will be joined in the back row by barnstorming number 8 Nick Williams.
Callum Black, Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson and Sean Reidy will provide forward cover on the bench alongside Herring. Hughes Insurance Academy scrum half Dave Shanahan and fellow backs Ian Humphreys and Louis Ludik are also included among the replacements.
French club Oyonnax will be hosting their first ever Champions Cup match and Kiss believes that makes them an extremely difficult proposition.
“They would like nothing more than to say they have won their first ever Champions Cup game. We just don’t want to be ambushed by that and we’ve got to make sure we’re level-headed,” he said ahead of the Ulstermen’s trip to Stade Charles-Mathon.
“We’re very aware that they will be a tough task at home; they’ve earned their way into the competition on the back of their form at home in the Top 14.
“They’ve got a crowd that get right behind them and we’ve got to make sure we produce a performance that can absorb that and hopefully quieten the crowd and put us on the front foot.”
ULSTER (v Oyonnax): Peter Nelson; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Kyle McCall, Rory Best (capt), Ricky Lutton, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Callum Black, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson, Sean Reidy, Dave Shanahan, Ian Humphreys, Louis Ludik.