Club captain Iain Henderson will make his first start of the season for Ulster when they host the Emirates Lions at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm). Tickets are available to buy online here.
Dan McFarland’s selected starting XV contains nine personnel changes and two positional switches to the side that came from behind to beat Munster 21-14 in the last round of the BKT United Rugby Championship.
Academy prop Scott Wilson comes in for his first start at this level, following an impressive cameo off the bench last week, while Martin Moore is back from his long-term knee injury to feature among the replacements.
It is almost an entirely new starting pack, with 21-year-old tighthead Wilson joining Rob Herring, Ulster’s new record caps holder, and Andrew Warwick in the front row. Henderson and Alan O’Connor will pack down behind them.
David McCann, the player-of-the-match against Munster, switches to number 8 with the flanker berths filled this week by Dave Ewers and Reuben Crothers, whose recent debut away to Connacht was shut short due to an early head injury.
Jake Flannery and Nathan Doak, who have scored 57 points between them so far this season, will line out together at half-back, James Hume returns in midfield alongside Stuart McCloskey, and Stewart Moore reverts to full-back to replace the injured Ethan McIlroy.
The back-three is completed by Robert Baloucoune and Jacob Stockdale, the scorer of four tries in three starts, and Academy back rower Lorcan McLoughlin is poised to make his senior debut for Ulster from the bench.
Along with Moore’s return from injury and the promotion of McLoughlin, McFarland’s other reinforcements include John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Harry Sheridan, John Cooney, Billy Burns and Michael Lowry.
The Ulstermen are determined to make it three successive wins on their new 3G pitch at Kingspan Stadium. They have lost just one of their last seven URC home games, and were 26-10 winners when they entertained the Lions for the first time back in October 2021.
The province’s skills coach Craig Newby commented: “Every team is unique. South Africans teams always love the set-pieces, running hard, tackling hard, a good jackal side, probably similar to Munster in the breakdown fight.
“The Lions’ kicking game is a real strength and (they) have some real athletes in the backs. They have different threats around the ball. We have had a short week of training, and this week is about us, and making sure we get our stuff right.
“Friday night matches are nice so we can get refreshed. This is game five of 11 games in a row, so you look for the opportunity where you can to refresh the bodies as well as the minds.
“The guys have come in really prepared in their own time and training was excellent. It’s such a long strip of games until we get a break in January.”
ULSTER (v Emirates Lions): Stewart Moore; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Jake Flannery, Nathan Doak; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Scott Wilson, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt), Dave Ewers, Reuben Crothers, David McCann.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Martin Moore, Harry Sheridan, Lorcan McLoughlin, John Cooney, Billy Burns, Michael Lowry.