The Ulster team has been finalised for their much-anticipated GUINNESS PRO14 semi-final against hosts Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm).
Retiring centre Darren Cave, who received the Vodafone Medal for Excellence at last night’s Zurich Irish Rugby Players Awards, is named among the replacements. If called upon during the sold-out clash, the 32-year-old will move level with Andrew Trimble at the top of the province’s all-time appearances list (229).
There is also a milestone for Nick Timoney, who starts in the back row on the occasion of his 50th Ulster appearance. The two personnel changes from the quarter-final win over Connacht see Jacob Stockdale and Louis Ludik return to the back-three having recovered from their respective hamstring and knee injuries.
Abbey Insurance Academy flyer Robert Baloucoune completes the back-three, while Stuart McCloskey, who picked up the Bank of Ireland Ulster Player of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Year awards last week, combines with Luke Marshall in midfield, and Billy Burns and John Cooney continue together at half-back.
The pack is unchanged from the Connacht game, with Rory Best captaining the side from the front row where he is joined by Eric O’Sullivan and Ross Kane. Iain Henderson and Kieran Treadwell feature again in the second row, backed up by loose forwards Timoney, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee.
Michael Lowry, who started against Connacht, is the only new face on the bench. Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Sean Reidy will provide cover for the forwards, and 20-year-old starlet Lowry joins David Shanahan and Cave as the back-line cover.
Lowry, the newly-announced Abbey Insurance Academy Player of the Year, said: “We’re really excited as it’s a second chance for us (after losing to Leinster in Europe). The PRO14 quarter-final against Connacht was a second chance already, and this is another chance for us to prove that we’re a very good team and can go on and win the competition.
“It’s going to be tough work as Glasgow are a great side with threats all across the park, but we’re really hungry for it now. We can learn from the last game (the recent 30-7 loss to Glasgow in Scotstoun), but it’ll bring us motivation as well.
“Going from the Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster into that game mightn’t have helped with the boys being a bit fatigued and whatnot, but I think there’s an extra bit of buzz around us now. It’s going to be a tough test for sure, but it’s one we can overcome.”
ULSTER (v Glasgow Warriors): Jacob Stockdale; Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rory Best (capt), Ross Kane, Iain Henderson, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Sean Reidy, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Darren Cave.