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Ulster Give First Start To Academy Lock Izuchukwu

Ulster Give First Start To Academy Lock Izuchukwu

Cormac Izuchukwu is pictured with Jordi Murphy during Ulster's Guinness PRO14 win in Glasgow last month ©INPHO/Craig Watson

Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has made eight personnel changes for his Friday’s Guinness PRO14 final round encounter with Zebre at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm).

With their challenge for the PRO14 title now over, McFarland is giving game-time to some of the province’s up-and-coming youngsters, including 21-year-old lock Cormac Izuchukwu who comes in for his first start.

The Ulstermen have a European Challenge Cup round 16 trip to Harlequins on the horizon, so Martin Moore slots back into the front row alongside Eric O’Sullivan and an in-form John Andrew.

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Ireland Sevens international Izuchukwu has Kieran Treadwell for company in the second row, and the back row is made up of Jordi Murphy, who returns as captain, Sean Reidy and David McCann who shifts to number 8.

Michael Lowry, the Guinness player-of-the-match last week against the Dragons, and John Cooney will lead a youthful back-line that features 20-year-old Academy talent Ethan McIlroy at full-back.

Robert Baloucoune and James Hume are also reintroduced, with the latter reunited in midfield with Stewart Moore who ran in two tries at the Principality Stadium last Saturday.

Reflecting on that experience and looking forward to starting again, 21-year-old centre Moore said: “It was class, the Principality Stadium is hard to beat. I was told to enjoy it and I certainly did.

“It was good fun and it’s nice to be back to winning ways. As much as they are dead rubbers (with the PRO14 final out of reach), we are looking to finish each game with a win.

“We’re still challenging ourselves, and as you saw at the weekend, we have a mixture of young guys coming through as well as the older ones, so we are working with different combinations.

“We’re not going out with the intent to lose, we are there to win at the end of the day and we might as well use these games to prep for Harlequins because it is just around the corner.”

Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Matthew Rea are the forward reinforcements, while David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham will provide the back-line options on the bench.

ULSTER (v Zebre): Ethan McIlroy; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle; Michael Lowry, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Martin Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordy Murphy (capt), David McCann.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Matthew Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.