The Ulster team has been announced for the historic visit of Southern Kings to Kingspan Stadium on Friday night (7.35pm kick-off).
The Guinness PRO14 tie is the first-ever meeting between the two sides in Belfast, following the South Africans’ move into the Championship last summer. Tickets are still available through ulsterrugby.com/buytickets.
Alan O’Connor, a graduate of the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy, will captain the side for the first time, in what is Head Coach Jono Gibbes’ opening game in charge.
Flyhalf Johnny McPhillips, who has made four appearances as a replacement, will make his first senior start.
Also in the backline, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy return from injury lay-offs to earn starting berths at outside centre and right wing respectively.
McPhillips will have experience either side of him in the form of scrumhalf John Cooney and inside centre Stuart McCloskey, while Rob Lyttle and Charles Piutau will join Gilroy in a potent back three combination.
Gibbes has opted for Andy Warwick, John Andrew and Wiehahn Herbst in the front row, with Kieran Treadwell partnering O’Connor at lock. The loose forwards are Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney.
Hooker Rob Herring has been released from the Ireland national camp and will provide cover on the bench, while Ireland U20 duo Matthew Dalton and Jonny Stewart are also included among the replacements.
Kyle McCall, Rodney Ah You and Chris Henry are the other forwards included in the match day squad, with Darren Cave and Louis Ludik providing further backline options.
Ulster team to play Southern Kings, Guinness PRO14, Kingspan Stadium, Friday 9th February, 7.35pm:
(15-9): C Piutau; C Gilroy, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; J McPhillips, J Cooney;
(1-8): A Warwick, J Andrew, W Herbst, A O’Connor (captain), K Treadwell, M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney;
Replacements (16-23): R Herring, K McCall, R Ah You, M Dalton, C Henry, J Stewart, D Cave, L Ludik.
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