Summer signings Jack McGrath, Sam Carter and Matt Faddes will all earn their first Ulster caps in Friday’s GUINNESS PRO14 opener against the Ospreys at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).
Tickets for the eagerly-awaited first round game, priced from £17 for adults and £12 for juniors, are still available at ulsterrugby.com/buytickets. It will be shown live on Premier Sports 1 and eir Sport 1.
Ireland international McGrath starts in the front row alongside captain Rob Herring and Tom O’Toole, with Carter, the 16-times capped Wallaby lock, partnering Kieran Treadwell in the engine room.
Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy and Sean Reidy are selected as Ulster’s starting loose forwards, while last season’s pivotal half-back partnership of Billy Burns and John Cooney remains in place. 21-year-old talent James Hume, who signed his first senior contract earlier this year, and Luke Marshall are paired together in midfield.
Following a couple of impressive pre-season showings and a brace of tries in the home game against Glasgow Warriors, Craig Gilroy will make his first competitive outing in over 11 months. He joins Robert Lyttle and New Zealander Faddes in the back-three.
John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Greg Jones will provide the forward options from the bench for Dan McFarland’s men, who reached the semi-final stage of the PRO14 last May, with David Shanahan, Michael Lowry and Louis Ludik covering the back-line.
Ulster begin the new season without Jacob Stockdale, Iain Henderson and retiring hooker Rory Best who are away on Rugby World Cup duty with Ireland. The province’s current injury list includes Martin Moore (calf), Nick Timoney (hand), Will Addison (hamstring), Gareth Milasinovich (knee), Robert Baloucoune (knee) and Marcell Coetzee (ankle).
ULSTER (v Ospreys): Matt Faddes; Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, James Hume, Robert Lyttle; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring (capt), Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy, Sean Reidy.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Louis Ludik.