Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has finalised his team for Saturday’s sold-out Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final showdown with provincial rivals Leinster at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5.45pm).
There are four changes to the side that won 14-13 at Leicester Tigers last time out in Europe, with injuries to Louis Ludik (knee) and Will Addison (back) prompting the inclusion of the 20-year-old Michael Lowry at full-back and Darren Cave, the province’s second most-capped player of all-time (224 caps), who starts at outside centre.
In an injury boost, Luke Marshall is selected in the matchday squad for the first time this season, after overcoming an ACL injury sustained against the Ospreys last May. Marshall is joined among the replacements by Sean Reidy, who is fully fit again after a leg injury and is set to make his 100th Ulster appearance in Dublin.
Rory Best will captain the Ulstermen in what will be his 75th European game, packing down alongside Dublin-born props Eric O’Sullivan and Martin Moore in the front row. The visitors will also be lifted by the presence of Iain Henderson in the engine room, the Ireland international shrugging off a knee injury to partner Kieran Treadwell in the second row.
Notably, Jordi Murphy will play against his former team for the first time since his move to Ulster last summer, featuring at openside flanker in a back row completed by Nick Timoney and Marcell Coetzee, who made a try-scoring return at number 8 during last Saturday’s 33-19 GUINNESS PRO14 win over the Isuzu Southern Kings.
Billy Burns and John Cooney will continue their half-back partnership that has been so pivotal in Europe this season, with the former having contributed five try assists so far. Cave and Stuart McCloskey resume their centre pairing from last week, while Jacob Stockdale, who scored six tries during the pool stages, is joined in the back-three by Academy talents Lowry and Robert Baloucoune.
Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Wiehahn Herbst, Alan O’Connor, David Shanahan and Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam winner Angus Kernohan join the fit-again Marshall and Reidy on the bench. The eagerly-awaited interprovincial encounter is sold out and between 13,000 and 15,000 Ulster fans are expected to be in attendance.
ULSTER (v Leinster): Michael Lowry; Robert Baloucoune, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rory Best (capt), Martin Moore, Iain Henderson, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Wiehahn Herbst, Alan O’Connor, Sean Reidy, David Shanahan, Luke Marshall, Angus Kernohan.