Rory Best and Paddy Jackson have been included in Ulster’s starting line-up for Saturday’s European Champions Cup match against Pool 5 leaders Clermont Auvergne ar Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 1pm).
Tickets for the match against the French giants are still available via ulsterrugby.com/buytickets. Rory Best and Paddy Jackson return to provincial action after contributing so much to Ireland’s successful November series.
The international pair are two of four changes to the team that claimed a bonus point 35-22 win over Cardiff Blues last weekend, with Robbie Diack and Louis Ludik also earning starting berths.
Best will captain the side from hooker and he will be joined in the front row by props Kyle McCall and Wiehahn Herbst. Diack and Peter Browne will form a mobile second row unit, with Iain Henderson, Chris Henry and number 8 Sean Reidy making up an all-international back row.
Jackson will partner the in-form Ruan Pienaar at half back, while Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall continue together as the province’s centre pairing. Ludik, who made a try-scoring return from injury in Cardiff, is named in a back-three that also includes Tommy Bowe and full-back Charles Piutau.
Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick and Rodney Ah You will provide Les Kiss with strong front row options off the bench. Exciting young lock Kieran Treadwell and utility forward Clive Ross are also named among the replacements. Paul Marshall, Darren Cave and Ireland Under-20 star Jacob Stockdale complete the matchday squad.
This will be the third fixture between Ulster and Clermont Auvergne after they met in the pool stages in 2011/12, when both matches were won by the home side. Ulster has won seven of their last eight home games against Top 14 opposition, with their only defeat in that run coming in round 2 in 2014, against Toulon.
However, on Saturday afternoon, they will come up against a formidable Clermont side who have won last five matches against Irish opposition.
Franck Azéma’s men have been extremely impressive so far this season as they remain the only team to take maximum points from their opening two European games, and also lead the way in the Top 14, with just three losses after 13 rounds.
ULSTER (v Clermont Auvergne): Charles Piutau; Tommy Bowe, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Kyle McCall, Rory Best (capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Peter Browne, Robbie Diack, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Rodney Ah You, Kieran Treadwell, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Darren Cave, Jacob Stockdale.