Les Kiss has made four changes from the victory over Connacht as Ulster take on a struggling Wasps side in the opening match of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
Iain Henderson captains the side for the first time on is 77th outing for the province.
Kyle McCall, Rob Herring and Wiehahn Herbst make up an unchanged front row. Henderson drops into the engine room to replace the injured Alan O’Connor. Kieran Treadwell partners Henderson while Robbie Diack takes his spot at blindside flanker. Sean Reidy starts ahead of Chris Henry who picked up a larynx problem against Connacht. Jean Deysel occupies the No.8 jersey in Marcell Coetzee’s absence.
The inclusion of Louis Ludik is the only change to the backline and he comes in for Tommy Bowe. John Cooney and Christian Lealiifano are the halfbacks, while Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall add bulk to the midfield. Jacob Stockdale will be hoping to continue his fine form on the left wing, with Charles Piutau starting at fullback against his former club.
The absence of Chris Henry was felt against Zebre and Wasps will feel that they have the upper hand at the breakdown through Thomas Young. The performances of Jean Deysel have been subdued since his debut in the opening game week of the Guinness PRO14 – he has carried for 67 metres in his three matches since making 66 metres against the Cheetahs. Ulster need him to produce a monstrous performance tomorrow night.
The selection of Robbie Diack on the blindside is a sign of the game Ulster want to play, a loose game at a fast tempo however the selection of Louis Ludik is a more conservative choice. Ludik will provide better defensive cover than Tommy Bowe who missed four tackles in his 60 minutes against Connacht.
While Wasps were plagued with injuries only ten days ago, they are set to welcome back several key players for tomorrow night’s clash. Danny Cipriani remains injured after tearing a knee ligament last month Aviva Premiership Player of the Season 2016/17, Jimmy Gopperth, starts at out half. Joe Launchbury returns after being rested against Saracens at the weekend. Simon McIntyre and Nathan Hughes have also fully recovered from injuries to play a part against Ulster.
Last year’s Aviva Premiership finalists have had a poor start to his season. They have succumbed to defeats in their last four outings against Exeter, Harlequins, Bath and Saracens having opened the season with victories against Sale and Worchester Warriors. It’s easy to forget that Wasps were one of the most exciting sides in Europe last season with their poor form but expect the Champions Cup match to be a welcome break from their league campaign.
This game will be won by the side who makes the least mistakes. Both sides favour an expansive game and are prone to missing tackles. Wasps have fire power out wide in Christian Wade, Willie Le Roux and Josh Bassett who scored a combined 32 tries last season. Stockdale lines up against Wade whose defence has been criticized in the past. If Ulster can isolate Stockdale one on one with Wade, I fancy the Ulsterman to have the advantage.
The FRU predicts: Wasps are a quality side going through a poor spell but I tip Ulster to open their campaign with a narrow win by 5 points for the first time since 2013.
|Charles Piutau||15||Willie Le Roux|
|Louis Ludik||14||Christian Wade|
|Luke Marshall||13||Elliot Daly|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||Brendan Macken|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Josh Bassett|
|Christian Lealiifano||10||Jimmy Gopperth|
|John Cooney||9||Dan Robson|
|Kyle McCall||1||Matt Mullan|
|Rob Herring||2||Tom Cruse|
|Wiehahn Herbst||3||Jake Cooper-Woolley|
|Kieran Treadwell||4||Joe Launchbury ©|
|Ian Henderson ©||5||Will Rowlands|
|Robbie Diack||6||James Haskell|
|Sean Reidy||7||Thomas Young|
|Jean Deysel||8||Nathan Hughes|
|John Andrew||16||Ashley Johnson|
|Callum Black||17||Simon McIntyre|
|Rodney Ah You||18||Marty Moore|
|Matthew Rea||19||James Gaskell|
|Clive Ross||20||Jack Willis|
|Paul Marshall||21||Joe Simpson|
|Pete Nelson||22||Rob Miller|
|Tommy Bowe||23||Marcus Watson|