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O’Connor To Captain Ulster In Gibbes’ First Game In Charge

O’Connor To Captain Ulster In Gibbes’ First Game In Charge

The Ulster team has been announced for the historic visit of the Southern Kings to Kingspan Stadium for Friday’s GUINNESS PRO14 encounter (kick-off 7.35pm).

This weekend’s GUINNESS PRO14 tie is the first ever meeting between the two sides in Belfast, following the South Africans’ move into the Championship last summer. Tickets are still available through ulsterrugby.com/buytickets.

Alan O’Connor, a graduate of the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy, will captain the side for the first time, in what is head coach Jono Gibbes’ first game in charge since the recent departure of Les Kiss as the province’s director of rugby.

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Young out-half Johnny McPhillips, who has made four appearances as a replacement, will make his first senior start. Also in the back-line, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy return from injury lay-offs to line out at outside centre and on the right wing respectively.

McPhillips will have experience either side of him in the form of scrum half John Cooney and inside centre Stuart McCloskey, while Robert Lyttle and Charles Piutau will join the returning Gilroy in a potent back-three combination.

Gibbes has opted for Andrew Warwick, John Andrew and Wiehahn Herbst in the front row, with Kieran Treadwell partnering skipper O’Connor in the engine room. The loose forwards are Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy and number 8 Nick Timoney, a recent try scorer in the Champions Cup against La Rochelle.

Hooker Rob Herring has been released from the Ireland camp and will provide cover on the bench, while Matthew Dalton and Jonny Stewart, who both started for the Ireland Under-20s against France in Bordeaux last Friday, are also included among the replacements.

Kyle McCall, Rodney Ah You and Chris Henry are the other forwards included in Ulster’s matchday squad, with Darren Cave and Louis Ludik joining 19-year-old scrum half Stewart as the back-line options.

ULSTER (v Southern Kings): Charles Piutau; Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Robert Lyttle; Johnny McPhillips, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Wiehahn Herbst, Alan O’Connor (capt), Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Rodney Ah You, Matthew Dalton, Chris Henry, Jonny Stewart, Darren Cave, Louis Ludik.