Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy return from their injuries to start in Ulster’s Guinness PRO14 clash against Southern Kings while Johnny McPhillips is set to make his first start.

In the front row, Andy Warwick and Wiehahn Herbst start while John Andrew makes his first appearance since the trip to Galway in December. Alan O’Connor captains the side from second row and Kieran Treadwell joins him in the engine room. Matthew Rea starts at blindside flanker while Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney remain at 7 and 8 respectively.

Christian Lealiifano has returned to the Brumbies so Johnny McPhillips is called upon at outhalf and will partner John Cooney. Rob Lyttle earns a start on the left wing while Stuart McCloskey is partnered by the returning Luke Marshall. Charles Piutau occupies his familiar fullback jersey and Craig Gilroy has recovered form his eye injury to start on the right wing.

Jonny Stewart and Matthew Dalton have been recalled from Ireland U20s duty to the Ulster bench. They are joined by Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Rodney Ah You, Chris Henry, Darren Cave and Louis Ludik.

A lot has happened since Ulster’s last game. Not only have Ulster had two weeks to mull over their European exit but they have also seen the exit of Director of Rugby, Les Kiss. It’s Jono Gibbes’ first match and he has picked an exciting side with a blend of youth and experience that should have enough to win the five match points.

Ulster won the first meeting between the sides in November but only after coming back from a poor start. They made too many individual errors and allowed Southern Kings to open a 12-0 lead after eight minutes. The momentum afforded to Southern Kings in the opening quarter allowed the hosts to go on and gain their first match points of the season.

Yaw Penxe starts on the right wing for the visitors and posed a few problems in the first match by scoring two tries. He is defensively vulnerable so I would like to see Ulster use the combination of Charles Piutau and Rob Lyttle to attack down the right wing. Luke Marshall makes a welcomed return having been out since late October. He’s been a big loss and he will help sure up what has been a leaking Ulster defence.

The crucial thing for Ulster tomorrow is if they open up a comfortable lead early on, they must turn the screw while maintaining a high level of discipline in defence. We have seen Ulster score 50 points against both Harlequins and Dragons this season, but allow the opposition to score 24 and 25 points respectively. This defensive issue is magnified by the fact that Ulster’s attacking threat has looked blunt since the turn of the year.

It’s important that Ulster deliver a performance in their first league match since the start of January and break a run of form which has seen them win only twice in the last five league matches.

The FRU predicts: Ulster should win this comfortably and run in a few tries in the process. Ulster dominated the lineout last time with John Andrew scoring a brace of tries and I expect him to add to his total. Ulster by 20 points with over four tries.

Ulster   Southern Kings
Charles Piutau 15 Masixole Banda
Craig Gilroy 14 Yaw Penxe
Luke Marshall 13 Berton Klaasen
Stuart McCloskey 12 Luzuko Vulindlu
Rob Lyttle 11 Anthonie Volmink
Johnny McPhillips 10 Martin Du Toit
John Cooney 9 Rowan Gouws
Andy Warwick 1 Schalk Ferreira
John Andrew 2 Michael Willemse (C)
Wiehahn Herbst 3 Pieter Scholtz
Alan O’Connor 4 Stephan Greeff
Kieran Treadwell 5 Bobby De Wee
Mathew Rea 6 Andisa Ntsila
Sean Reidy 7 Martinus Burger
Nick Timoney 8 Ruaan Lerm
Rob Herring 16 Stephan Coetzee
Kyle McCall 17 Johan Smith
Rodney Ah You 18 Dayan Van der Westhuizen
Matthew Dalton 19 Jurie Van Vuuren
Chris Henry 20 Eital Bredenkamp
Jonny Stewart 21 Godlen Masimla
Darren Cave 22 Barend Janse van Rensburg
Louis Ludik 23 Harlon Klaasen

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