Les Kiss has named his side which will take the field against Wasps on Sunday in Ulster’s crucial European Champions Cup fixture.
We welcome back a number of players to the matchday squad who return from injury in the form of Andrew Warwick, Wiehahn Herbst and Rob Lyttle.
Rory Best and Rodney Ah You remain in their front row positions from last week while Kyle McCall is promoted from the bench to loosehead prop. Alan O’Connor continues in the second row while Kieran Treadwell is welcomed back as his partner. Iain Henderson moves to the back row to replace Matthew Rea while seven and eight remains unchanged as Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney occupy those jerseys respectively.
Christian Lealiifano will make his last appearance in an Ulster jersey from out half and will be partnered by John Cooney for the final time. Craig Gilroy suffered a fractured cheekbone against Leinster last week forcing Les Kiss into a backline reshuffle. Louis Ludik moves to the wing while Darren Cave comes in at centre. Jacob Stockdale remains on the left wing while Stuart McCloskey and Charles Piutau start at inside centre and fullback respectively.
Ulster sit top of Pool 1 and are in a magnificent position to progress to their first knockout stage since 2014. We will have a clear picture of what is necessary by kick off on Sunday (15:15) which is one of the benefits of playing after everyone else. As it stands, Ulster qualify as the fourth ranked group winners but they will have to match La Rochelle’s result against Harlequins which kicks off at the same time to remain top of the group.
Wasps suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Harlequins last week and are now needing a miracle to qualify. They can only reach 18 match points with a bonus point victory and even Dai Young stated at the end of Saturday’s match that they were out of the tournament. Nevertheless they have named a strong team, but not one without weaknesses. Christian Wade is an incredible finisher, but defensively vulnerable. He was caught out of position for both tries in the previous fixture. His back three partners, Willie Le Roux and Marcus Watson are both excellent finishers and thrive off a loose game.
Nathan Hughes remains injured for the home side, but short term signing Nizaam Carr remains a dangerous threat. Jimmy Gopperth and Elliot Daly are massive losses, but Wasps are boosted by the return of Juan de Jongh. Joe Launchbury, Jake Cooper-Woolley, Dan Robson and Danny Cipriani all start. The scrum will be an interesting battle. Ulster have struggled in recent matches and are up against Cooper-Woolley and Simon McIntyre. Neither are as good as Dany Priso or Uini Antonio, but both will provide stiff opposition. Like Ulster, Wasps thrive upon a loose and open game, so expect tries to be scored.
Both sides have malfunctioning lineouts. Wasps have the lowest lineout success rate of just 83% in the tournament, while Ulster’s is the third lowest at 84%, however the hosts will be boosted with the return of Tom Cruse at hooker. The selection of Kieran Treadwell, who has two lineout steals in the tournament, is hopefully an attempt to disrupt their set piece.
On one final note, while people may point to Ulster’s failure to deny La Rochelle the losing bonus in the previous match, it is worth noting that Christian Lealiifano knocked over a last minute penalty against Wasps in the first fixture to deny them a losing bonus point which has ultimately proved costly.
The FRU predicts: It is Ulster’s biggest game of the season to date. History suggests that Ulster have little chance as Wasps have never lost to Ulster at home and have scored 141 points in the three meetings. However I think that Ulster will be able to come away with the win to give Christian the send off that he deserves and secure a quarter final berth.
|Willie Le Roux||15||Charles Piutau|
|Christian Wade||14||Louis Ludik|
|Juan De Jongh||13||Darren Cave|
|Kyle Eastmond||12||Stuart McCloskey|
|Marcus Watson||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Danny Cipriani||10||Christian Lealiifano|
|Dan Robson||9||John Cooney|
|Simon McIntyre||1||Kyle McCall|
|Tom Cruse||2||Rory Best ©|
|Jake Cooper-Woolley||3||Rodney Ah You|
|Joe Launchbury ©||4||Alan O’Connor|
|James Gaskell||5||Kieran Treadwell|
|Jack Willis||6||Iain Henderson|
|Guy Thompson||7||Sean Reidy|
|Nizaam Carr||8||Nick Timoney|
|Ashley Johnson||16||Rob Herring|
|Ben Harris||17||Andy Warwick|
|Marty Moore||18||Wiehahn Herbst|
|Kearnan Myall||19||Matt Rea|
|Thomas Young||20||Chris Henry|
|Joe Simpson||21||David Shanahan|
|Rob Miller||22||Johnny McPhillips|
|Brendan Macken||23||Rob Lyttle|