A strong Ulster team has been selected for the first of their back-to-back Heineken Champions Cup matches against Harlequins at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 3.15pm). Tickets are available to buy online at ulsterrugby.com/buytickets.
Head coach Dan McFarland has made five changes to the side that recorded a 29-5 bonus point win over the Scarlets last Friday. Louis Ludik shifts to the right wing as the returning Jacob Stockdale comes in at full-back, donning the province’s number 15 jersey for only the fifth time.
Craig Gilroy completes the back-three, Luke Marshall rejoins Stuart McCloskey in midfield, and Billy Burns resumes at half-back alongside John Cooney, Ulster’s man-of-the-match against Bath and the scorer of two tries and 25 points in total across the first two rounds.
The front row is the same for the third game running as Eric O’Sullivan and Martin Moore combine with hooker Rob Herring, and Alan O’Connor retains his starting berth in the second row, packing down with talismanic captain Iain Henderson.
Their all-international back row features Marcell Coetzee, the man-of-the-match against Clermont Auvergne, at number 8 and ever-ready flankers Jordi Murphy, who also impressed in that second round clash, and Sean Reidy.
Adam McBurney, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Matthew Rea will be the forward reinforcements, and covering the back-line will be David Shanahan, Bill Johnston and Matt Faddes, who book-ended the Scarlets tie with two tries.
Speaking ahead of the Champions Cup third round fixture, Ulster skills coach Dan Soper said: “In round three for us last year, away to the Scarlets, we started to take off so Harlequins will feel they are still in the mix, having started with a defeat followed by a win.
“We need to back it up with another really good performance at home to keep that momentum going. That word momentum is one you like to lean on and keep going. This is the unique period of the season when you play a team back-to-back.
“You don’t get that in any other competition in the world virtually, so we know how important it is to get a good start this week. We probably would have preferred a wee bit longer between games but, sometimes it’ll work in your favour that they are nice and close together when you’ve got momentum.
“And other times, you’ll want a longer break, get guys back who are injured, or guys that are banned back so it is what it is. We’ve known it was going to be like that from the start of the season. It’s just important we turn up every week and perform.”
ULSTER (v Harlequins): Jacob Stockdale; Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; 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, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Matt Faddes.