Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has confirmed the team to play Clermont Auvergne in Friday’s crucial Heineken Champions Cup clash at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm). Tickets are still available at ulsterrugby.com/buytickets.
The selected side sees four changes to the one that started last Saturday’s hard-fought 17-16 first round victory away to Bath. Louis Ludik comes in on the right wing, joining Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale in the back-three.
Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall will again make up the midfield pairing, while Billy Burns, whose two-year contract extension was announced this week, and John Cooney form the province’s half-back partnership for the 21st time together.
The three remaining changes for the eagerly-awaited second round showdown are in the pack. Eric O’Sullivan returns to the starting loosehead prop position alongside Rob Herring at hooker and Martin Moore at tighthead.
Alan O’Connor slots into the second row alongside Iain Henderson, who is looking forward to leading out Ulster at Kingspan Stadium for the first time since being named club captain.
Fellow Ireland international Sean Reidy makes his return to the blindside flanker berth, linking up in the back row with Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee who is set for his fifth start of the season at number 8.
Adam McBurney, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Nick Timoney are the forwards back-up from the bench. The replacement backs are David Shanahan, who is poised to make his 50th appearance for Ulster, Bill Johnston and Craig Gilroy.
Ahead of the mouth-watering second round encounter, skipper Henderson said: “To see a team coming over who’ve done so well in recent years on the European and French stage, it gives guys an opportunity to have a crack and ensure this stadium holds a bit of fear for anyone coming here.
“It’s exciting to get teams here who you don’t usually play against. This game is massive and could definitely set the tone. How many times have we been struggling, trying to scrape a point in the last game of Europe? If we can do the work now, it will take a lot of pressure off later.”
ULSTER (v Clermont Auvergne): Will Addison’ Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Craig Gilroy.