Iain Henderson’s quicker-than-expected recovery from thumb surgery will see him make his 100th appearance for Ulster in their crucial Heineken Champions Cup round 6 tie with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday (kick-off 3.15pm).
Head coach Dan McFarland has made just one change to the team that recorded a memorable 26-22 win over Pool 4 leaders Racing 92 at Kingspan Stadium last Saturday, which leaves the province’s quarter-final qualification destiny in their own hands.
Having been named in the Ireland Six Nations squad on Wednesday, Iain Henderson’s return from injury is a welcome boost for the Ulstermen. He rejoins Kieran Treadwell in the second row, supporting the Rory Best-led front row in an otherwise unchanged pack.
In the back-line, David Shanahan, who was a late call-up to the starting XV last weekend, retains his place at scrum half. John Cooney, whose back injury forced his withdrawal from the side in round 5, will provide cover on the bench.
Out-half Billy Burns has been cleared to start after a scan on a calf injury, the in-form Will Addison and Stuart McCloskey are also retained in the midfield, and the tournament’s top try scorer Jacob Stockdale and Academy talent Robert Baloucoune, who scored Ulster’s three tries against Racing between them, continue on the wings with Louis Ludik completing the back-three.
Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick and Ross Kane are the front row reserves, with Alan O’Connor and Nick Timoney chosen as the other forward options. Cooney, 20-year-old Academy starlet Michael Lowry and Darren Cave are the back-line reinforcements at McFarland’s disposal.
ULSTER (v Leicester Tigers): Louis Ludik; Robert Baloucoune, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, David Shanahan; Eric O’Sullivan, Rory Best (capt), Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee;
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Nick Timoney, John Cooney, Michael Lowry, Darren Cave.