Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend is delighted to welcome back fly-half Finn Russell as they welcome an unbeaten Ulster side in the Guinness PRO12 on Friday.
Russell has not featured for the Warriors since last season’s Play-Off defeat to Connacht in Galway, will wear the No.10 shirt on his 24th birthday.
The Warriors have an enviable record at Scotstoun – they have only lost one league game there since November 2013.
They have won their last nine there but after defeat to Cardiff Blues last time out – Townsend is hoping for a response in a much-changed starting XV.
He said: “Ulster are a quality team and have recruited very well this season. We know it’ll be a tough test but it’s a game we’re all really looking forward to.
“It’s a boost to have Finn Russell back from injury. He’s been really positive since his return to training and played well for Ayr in the BT Premiership last weekend.
“Tomorrow will be a special occasion for Lewis Wynne and Tjiuee Uanivi, who will make their first starts, and also for Matt Fagerson and Sam Thomson who could make their debuts from the bench.
“Lewis is learning every week and is working hard for the team and deserves his starting place. We’re also looking forward to seeing Tjiuee starting after some impressive appearances off the bench.
“For Matt (Fagerson) and Sam (Thomson) it’s a big opportunity to go out and take the game to Ulster.”
Lewis Wynne will make his first start and fourth appearance for the Warriors lining up at open-side flanker.
Namibian international Tjiuee Uanivi will also make his first start on his third competitive appearance for the club.
On the bench 18-year-old backrower Matt Fagerson, brother of Zander, and 22-year-old second-row Sam Thomson could both feature for the first time.
In-form Tommy Seymour starts on the left wing for Glasgow Warriors
Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has made a total of nine personnel and positional changes as his side hope to maintain their unbeaten run.
Returning Irish international Jared Payne will make his first appearance of the season as he starts at full-back, in a back three that sees Charles Piutau move to the left wing, with Louis Ludik starting on the right.
Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson, who have both already picked up Man of the Match awards in the opening three rounds, are retained at half-back, while Stuart McCloskey will be joined in the midfield by Darren Cave.
Rob Herring will captain the side from hooker and will be joined in the front row by Andy Warwick and Rodney Ah You, while Franco van der Merwe comes in to join Alan O’Connor in the second row.
Following a second-half appearance in last week’s victory over Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium, Iain Henderson will start against Glasgow and will be partnered in the back row by Sean Reidy and Roger Wilson.
Ireland captain Rory Best will hope to make his first appearance of the season as he makes up a strong looking list of replacements.
Ulster’s only loss in their last eight Guinness PRO12 encounters came in last season’s semi-final to Leinster at the RDS Arena and the return of Jackson last weekend had Kiss purring.
“We’ve done a bit of chopping and changing in our backline and we haven’t forged combinations as such but we’ll probably get to that in the next two or three weeks,” Kiss said.
“We’ve got a couple more guys back from international duty next week so again there’ll be a few more changes.
“The influence of Paddy was obvious, he had the ball on a string and he ran the ball well.
“I thought he did really, really well at managing the game on his first start back this season.
“It was a really consummate performance from Paddy.”
Glasgow Warriors: Hogg; Sarto, Bennett, Dunbar, Seymour; Russell, Pyrgos; Reid, Brown, Z.Fagerson; Peterson, Gray; Uanivi, Wynne, Wilson
Replacements: MacArthur, Allan, Puafisi, Thomson, M.Fagerson, Price, Grigg, Hughes
Ulster: Payne; Ludik, Cave, McCloskey, Piutau; Jackson, Pienaar; Warwick, Herring, Ah You, O’Connor, van der Merwe, Henderson, Reidy, Wilson
Replacements: Best, Black, Kane, Browne, Ross, Marshall, Olding, Lyttle
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 29, Glasgow Warriors won 14, Ulster won 14, and 1 game drawn.
At Scotstoun Stadium, 7:35pm. Live on BBC Sport NI
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 51st competition game)
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell (WRU), Cammy Rudkin (SRU)
Citing Commissioner: Douglas Hunter (SRU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)
Paddy Jackson’s spectacular try 20 minutes from time helped Ulster move top of the Guinness PRO12 table as they edged Glasgow Warriors 22-17 in an enthralling contest at Scotstoun.
Ulster maintained their 100 per cent record through four games as Jackson decisively finished off a sparkling team move and their defence kept Glasgow’s relentless late attacks at bay.
The visitors were on top for the majority of the first half with Darren Cave and a penalty try giving them a 15-7 lead at the break – prop Gordon Reid getting the hosts’ lone score.
Finn Russell’s penalty and Tommy Seymour’s seventh try of the campaign did give Warriors a narrow lead after the break but Jackson’s effort ensure just a second Guinness PRO12 defeat at Scotstoun for Gregor Townsend’s troops since November 2013.
Les Kiss made nine personnel and position changes from the 19-8 win over Scarlets last time out but there was no lack of continuity for Ulster as they dominated the early going.
After setting up camp in the Glasgow 22, Jackson missed a fairly straightforward early penalty but made amends on five minutes as he successfully slotted a long-range three-pointer.
Ulster thought they had scored the game’s opening try when Jared Payne crossed the whitewash on eight minutes but the score was ruled out after Iain Henderson dangerously cleared out a ruck in the build-up – the Ireland international earning himself ten minutes in the sin-bin.
But that one-man disadvantage barely slowed the visitors as a magical, jinking break by Charles Piutau on the quarter-hour mark got them into the 22 and the ball was spread wide for Cave to slide over in the corner.
Jackson missed the tough conversion and Glasgow got themselves back in the match as fantastic counter-rucking from the kick-off won them a penalty and they were rewarded for aggressively kicking to the corner when Reid burrowed over from close-range.
Finn Russell – on his 24th birthday – narrowed the gap to 8-7 with the extras and although Ulster remained on top, it took until just before the break for that lead to be extended.
The TMO had ruled out an earlier Rob Herring score as Rodney Ah You was penalised for a blocking line but this time it was the Warriors penalised with Leonardo Sarto’s no-hands tackle on Piutau handing the Irishmen a penalty try.
Trailing 15-7 at the break, Glasgow needed to register the first points of the second half and Russell’s 47th-minute penalty did just that before a crucial try from the in-form Seymour ten minutes later.
Alex Dunbar made the initial break and a few phases later, Stuart Hogg’s sumptuous offload sent Seymour over for his seventh try of the campaign before Russell’s touchline conversion gave them a first lead of the day at 17-15.
But a contender for try of the young season from Ulster with a little under 20 minutes remaining proved decisive.
After turning the ball over in their own 22, an incisive break saw Louis Ludik inject some pace before sleek handling got the ball in Jackson’s hands and he held off defenders to slide over and add the simple conversion for a 22-17 lead.
The Warriors produced phase after phase in search of a score that would see them get back in the match but the visiting defence held firm to move them top of the Guinness PRO12 table.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 adults and €5 child, and be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie. For further information visit http://www.pro12rugby.com/final