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Ulster Boosted By Returning Internationals For Toulouse Test

Ulster Boosted By Returning Internationals For Toulouse Test

Ireland star Jacob Stockdale is pictured in action for Ulster against the Ospreys in October ©INPHO/Alex James

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland is able to select a strong team for Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup opener against Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8pm).

The Ulstermen welcome back Jacob Stockdale, Stuart McCloskey, Eric O’Sullivan and Rob Herring from international duty, as they get their Pool B campaign underway.

Unfortunately, some untimely injuries have ruled out regular captain Iain Henderson (knee), Rob Lyttle (back), Billy Burns (groin), Louis Ludik (concussion) and Luke Marshall (knee), amongst others.

Stockdale rejoins a back-three that features the in-form Michael Lowry and Matt Faddes, with McCloskey, fresh from his fourth Ireland cap, linking up with James Hume in the centre.

International duo Ian Madigan and John Cooney command the half-back positions, while new Ireland cap O’Sullivan makes up an all-international front row with Herring and ever-present tighthead Martin Moore.

Australian Sam Carter captains the province from the second row, ably assisted by Alan O’Connor. Marcell Coetzee, who missed September’s 36-8 quarter-final defeat to Toulouse, anchors a back row that is completed by Sean Reidy and Jordi Murphy.

The forward cover tomorrow will be provided by John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor and Matthew Rea. Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore and Craig Gilroy are the replacements backs. 

Looking to gain some revenge for that last-eight loss in September, McFarland said: “We’re obviously in a good position (sitting at the top of Guinness PRO14 Conference B) and ‘a good feeling that comes with the confidence that you get from winning. 

“But we’re also under no illusion that playing during international windows in domestic competitions – it doesn’t matter what domestic competition it is – is different to playing in Heineken Champions Cup games out of international windows.

For a provincial side like Ulster, we’re maxing out if we’re playing play-off games in the Heineken Champions Cup, and that’s just the nature of where we are at the moment. 

“So, you know, that’s our goal – we want to be playing in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup, and, you know, if we get through to that stage, then we will reassess what our goals are.”

He added: “Playing against a team like Toulouse, perennial champions of the competition who have beaten us by 30-odd points the last time we were playing in Europe, the mountain we have to climb is significant.”

ULSTER (v Toulouse): Michael Lowry; Matt FaddesJames Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Ian Madigan, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (capt), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.  

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew WarwickTom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Matthew Rea, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy.