New Ulster signing Bill Johnston will make his competitive debut for the province Saturday against the Toyota Cheetahs in the second round of the GUINNESS PRO14 (kick-off 6.15pm local time/5.15pm Irish time).
Johnston, the former Ireland Under-20 international and Munster prospect, is the sole change to the Ulster squad that opened the new Championship season with a 38-14 bonus point home win over the Ospreys last Friday night.
The 22-year-old from Clonmel, Co. Tipperary will partner John Cooney at half-back, with the pairing of Luke Marshall and James Hume given a second successive outing in the province’s midfield.
Craig Gilroy, who marked his return to competitive action last week with a brace of tries, continues on the right wing with Robert Lyttle stationed again on the left. Versatile New Zealander Matt Faddes, another summer signing who touched down on his debut against the Ospreys, fills the full-back berth.
Marshalled by new forwards coach Roddy Grant, the pack remains unchanged with hooker Rob Herring captaining the side alongside fellow Ireland international Jack McGrath and Tom O’Toole in the front row. Sam Carter and Kieran Treadwell complete the tight five, while Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy and Greg Jones are selected as the starting loose forwards.
John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Clive Ross will provide the forwards back-up at the Toyota Stadium, with David Shanahan, Michael Lowry and Louis Ludik the back-line options at head coach Dan McFarland’s disposal.
Acknowledging how impressive the Cheetahs were in their 48-14 first round dismissal of Glasgow Warriors, young number 8 Jones commented: “We know it’ll be a massive challenge, they performed really well in the first week at home to Glasgow. They’re also coming off the back of a very good Currie Cup campaign.
“It’ll be a very different challenge. The Cheetahs are quite different to the Ospreys in terms of there’s going to be a lot of quick taps, quick throw-ins – they’ll constantly try and up the tempo of the game.
“I actually travelled (with the squad to South Africa) last year but I didn’t get a minute (on the pitch). I was 24th man for both games. It was tough, I did a bit of fitness in Bloemfontein the last time, so I got to experience the altitude conditions a bit – that was tough.”
ULSTER (v Toyota Cheetahs): Matt Faddes; Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, James Hume, Robert Lyttle; Bill Johnston, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring (capt), Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy, Greg Jones.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Clive Ross, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Louis Ludik.