Director of rugby Les Kiss has named his team for Ulster’s concluding Champions Cup pool game against Bordeaux-Bègles at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 1pm).
Ulster’s chances of progressing to the knockout stages are all but gone following a 31-19 defeat at the hands of Exeter Chiefs last Sunday and there are six personnel changes to the side that lost at Sandy Park.
Four of the changes come in the tight five as the front row injury crisis continues, with Hughes Insurance Academy props Ross Kane and Tommy O’Hagan adding their names to the lengthy injury list.
Jonny Simpson will make his first start for the province at tighthead prop, having earned three previous caps as a replacement. Andrew Warwick will join Simpson in the front row and they will pack down alongside Ireland captain Rory Best.
Elsewhere in the pack, Robbie Diack and Franco van der Merwe will start together in the second row for the first time, while the loose forward trio of Iain Henderson, Chris Henry and Sean Reidy is retained.
Dave Shanahan and Paddy Jackson are named as the half-back pairing for the second consecutive week. Darren Cave, hugely impressive in the Ulster ‘A’ team’s 38-21 win over London Scottish last Friday night, is installed in the Ulster midfield alongside Stuart McCloskey.
Tommy Bowe returns to the starting line-up on the right wing, with captain Andrew Trimble selected on the left flank and Charles Piutau, the scorer of two tries in Exeter, reverting to full-back.
Ricky Lutton is set to make his first appearance of the season after recovering from a series of injuries. He will provide forward cover along with John Andrew, Callum Black, Kieran Treadwell and Clive Ross. Backs Paul Marshall, Brett Herron and Craig Gilroy are also included in the matchday 23 for Saturday’s game.
With only three defeats in their last 25 European outings in Belfast, the Ulstermen will be hoping to continue their proud home record and kick-start their season ahead of a crucial block of GUINNESS PRO12 games.
ULSTER (v Bordeaux-Bègles): Charles Piutau; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Andrew Trimble (capt); Paddy Jackson, Dave Shanahan; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best, Jonny Simpson, Robbie Diack, Franco van der Merwe, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Sean Reidy.
Replacements: John Andrew, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Kieran Treadwell, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Brett Herron, Craig Gilroy.