Marcell Coetzee and Jordi Murphy have returned to the Ulster team to face Clermont Auvergne at Stade Marcel Michelin in Saturday’s Pool 3 top of the table clash in the Heineken Champions Cup (kick-off 2pm local time/1pm Irish time).
The inclusion of the two international back rowers are the only changes to the side that defeated provincial rivals Munster in a 38-17 bonus point victory at Kingspan Stadium last Friday night.
Retained at full-back, the versatile Will Addison will line out alongside wingers Jacob Stockdale and Robert Baloucoune, two of the Ulstermen’s five try scorers against Munster.
Stuart McCloskey, the man-of-the-match from the interprovincial derby, combines again with Luke Marshall in midfield, outside the familiar half-back duo of Billy Burns and John Cooney, the Champions Cup’s second top points scorer so far this season with 54 points.
Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Martin Moore make up the front row trio, supported by captain Iain Henderson and Alan O’Connor in the engine room. Sean Reidy, another recent man-of-the-match winner, switches to blindside flanker as Murphy and Coetzee complete a strong set of starting forwards.
Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Matthew Rea are the forward options on the province’s bench, and David Shanahan, Bill Johnston and New Zealander Matt Faddes provide the back-line reinforcements.
With Ulster just a point ahead of Clermont in the pool standings, Ireland international Addison said: “Our aim is to go unbeaten (through the pool) and you do that by taking each game as it comes, and there’s no bigger game than playing one of the giants like Clermont.
“We enjoy it when it’s open. Clermont are notorious for playing an open brand of rugby, they attack from deep. We’re looking forward to whatever comes our way. They’ve got some serious talent.
“You look at their wingers, someone like Alivereti Raka, who has been unbelievable in the World Cup and since. Damian Penaud is probably the best young player in the country. That’s the challenge.
“The PRO14 is our bread and butter, but there’s definitely a different intangible feel about the place in a European week, there is a real electricity about everything we do day to day in a European week. It is a buzz that I find infectious.”
Clermont have won 30 of their last 31 home pool games in the Champions Cup – their only loss during that time was against Bordeaux-Begles. Sale Sharks were the last club from outside France to win a European fixture at Stade Marcel Michelin, during the 2008/09 season.
ULSTER (v Clermont Auvergne): Will Addison, Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Matt Faddes.