Ireland captain Rory Best will return to lead Ulster in Saturday’s GUINNESS PRO14 derby showdown with Leinster at the RDS (kick-off 5.35pm).
Rory Best, who has recovered from an ankle skin infection, has not featured for Les Kiss’ men since the dramatic draw with the Dragons in Newport at the start of December.
Abbey Insurance Academy scrum half Jonny Stewart, who only turns 20 next month, has earned a first senior start for the province, having made his debut off the bench against the same opposition earlier in the season.
Best will start at hooker and will be joined in the front row by Callum Black and Rodney Ah You. Peter Browne will play for the first time since September after being named in the second row alongside Iain Henderson. Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy and Jean Deysel will combine in the back row.
Ireland Under-20 international Stewart will be partnered at half-back by Christian Lealiifano, while Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave, who scored a try and made an assist in last Monday’s memorable comeback win over Munster, are retained in midfield.
Ireland international wingers Andrew Trimble and Jacob Stockdale are restored to the back-three, with New Zealander Charles Piutau continuing at full-back.
Rob Herring, Kyle McCall and Wiehahn Herbst are the front row replacements, with Alan O’Connor and Nick Timoney providing additional forward cover. John Cooney, Johnny McPhillips and Tommy Bowe are the back-line options on the bench.
Ulster still have a long list of absentees to deal with as Marcell Coetzee, Matthew Dalton, Robbie Diack, Craig Gilroy, Chris Henry, Brett Herron, Robert Lyttle, Luke Marshall, Paul Marshall, Adam McBurney, Jared Payne, Jonny Simpson and Kieran Treadwell are all either sidelined through injury or illness.
ULSTER (v Leinster): Charles Piutau; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Christian Lealiifano, Jonny Stewart; Callum Black, Rory Best (capt), Rodney Ah You, Peter Browne, Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy, Jean Deysel.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Wiehahn Herbst, Alan O’Connor, Nick Timoney, John Cooney, Johnny McPhillips, Tommy Bowe.