Ulster captain Iain Henderson has recovered from a hamstring injury to lead them team against Northampton Saints in Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup match at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8pm).
Tickets for the second round showdown are selling fast. Several sections of the stadium are now sold out, with only limited availability remaining in the other sections. Click here to find tickets.
Henderson is one of three changes to the side that defeated Clermont Auvergne 29-23 last Saturday. He starts in the second row alongside Alan O’Connor.
The fit-again Martin Moore takes over from fellow Ireland international Tom O’Toole at tighthead prop, with Andrew Warwick and Rob Herring continuing in their respective front row roles.
Last Saturday’s back row of Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, the scorer of that crucial try at Stade Marcel Michelin, and Duane Vermeulen, who is set for his home debut, has been retained.
Michael Lowry and Ethan McIlroy feature again at full-back and on the left wing respectively, while Robert Baloucoune’s shoulder injury-enforced absence sees Craig Gilroy return on the right.
James Hume and Stuart McCloskey, two of Ulster’s best performers from the opening round, will again form the centre pairing. Inside them will be half-backs Billy Burns and John Cooney, the Heineken star-of-the-match last week.
The Ulster coaches have again opted for a six-two split on the bench. John Andrew, Jack McGrath, O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter and Greg Jones provide the forward cover, and Nathan Doak and Stewart Moore are the replacement backs.
Speaking to the media this week, 24-year-old blindside Rea said: “We got the ball rolling (against Clermont), but we can’t pat ourselves on the backs too much.
“We did that against Leinster, and the week after we got skelped by the Ospreys. We enjoyed the changing room afterwards but we’ve a job to do this week and we have to stay focused.
“I remember coming (to Ravenhill for big European nights) as a kid with my dad and the noise was unbelievable. No doubt, I’ll be a bit nervous but I’m definitely looking forward to it.
“Racing were very, very good (in beating Northampton 45-14) and Northampton will come out swinging on Friday, no doubt about it. They were beaten by the better side in Racing.
“Their back-line found a few holes in Northampton’s defensive line. Like any other English side, they’re going to be big and bad.
“They’re going to take it to us but we can take a bit of confidence from last week. We’ll have to be switched on, they won’t roll over for us.”
ULSTER (v Northampton Saints): Michael Lowry; Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, Greg Jones, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore.