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Christian Lealiifano, John Cooney and Jean Deysel are set to be handed their debuts in Ulster’s clash with Toyota Cheetahs tomorrow evening.

Cooney and Lealiifano occupy the half back positions while Deysel lines up alongside Chris Henry at flanker. Henry captains the side. A big welcome back to Marcell Coetzee who is named at No.8 after a long lay off due to a shoulder injury.

In the back line, an interesting call sees Tommy Bowe occupy the 13 jersey despite Darren Cave being named on the bench. Bowe joins Stuart McCloskey in the centre. Possibly the biggest decision has Charles Piutau starting at fullback and Louis Ludik start on the wing despite Piutau playing his best rugby last year on the wing. Andrew Trimble completes the backline.

Ulster’s forwards are still relatively strong despite several absences and injuries. Rob Herring assumes hooking duties with Kyle McCall and Wiehahn Herbst either side of him as props. Robbie Diack and Alan O’Connor retain their second row spots from the match against Northampton while Reidy only makes the bench behind Deysel, Henry and Coetzee.

Cheetahs are depleted going into their first match of their debut season. Inspirational captain Francois Venter, back rowers Uzair Cassiem and Oupa Mohoje and winger Raymond Rhule all miss out due to international duty. Listed as a replacement, Cecil Afrika will be a familiar to those who follow the Sevens Circuit. He has represented South Africa 7s since 2009, scoring over 1,000 points in the process winning a bronze medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and gold medal at 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Opening matches are often cagey affairs and this will be no different. Ulster are under pressure to silence the ever-increasing doubters and an opening loss would do nothing but drain confidence. As stated in the season preview article, it’s a decisive season for Les Kiss. He has recruited his own coaches and Ulster fans are expecting a more successful season than last.

The FRU Predicts: A typical tight and cagey opening season affair that will not be pretty on the eye. Both teams will try to suss each other out in the first quarter but I do expect Ulster to triumph. Ulster by 5 points! #SUFTUM

Ulster Rugby Toyota Cheetahs
Charles Piutau 15 Sergeal Petersen
Andrew Trimble 14 Rosko Specman
Tommy Bowe 13 William Small-Smith
Stuart McCloskey 12 Ali Mgijima
Louis Ludik 11 Makazole Mapimpi
Christian Lealiifano 10 Clayton Blommetjies
John Cooney 9 Shaun Venter
Kyle McCall 1 Charles Marais
Rob Herring 2 Jacques du Toit
Wiehahn Herbst 3 Johannes Coetzee
Robbie Diack 4 Justin Basson
Alan O’Connor 5 Reniel Hugo
Jean Deysel 6 Paul Schoeman
Chris Henry (c) 7 Henco Venter
Marcell Coetzee 8 Niell Jordaan (c)
John Andrew 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld
Callum Black 17 Ox Nche
Rodney Ah You 18 Tom Botha
Matthew Rea 19 Rynier Bernardo
Sean Reidy 20 Gerhard Olivier
David Shanahan 21 Tian Meyer
Peter Nelson 22 Cecil Afrika
Darren Cave 23 Ryno Benjamin

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  1. Hi Ginger. Just to point out that we have a new Team FRU member who will be supplying our Ulster and Ireland Senior Men’s coverage this year while I cover the Academy/Ulster A/Ireland U20 matches to see what is coming through.

    However, never one to pass up the chance of spouting my opinion, yes I am disappointed that the first Ulster squad of the new season only features nine Ulster born players but in this professional era it seems to be win at all costs rather than spend a bit of time to develop our own players and a style of play that suits the players we have coming through. The powers that be either lack the ability to develop the youngsters or are under so much pressure that they opt to try and buy success.

    Unfortunately seeing the responses from the fickle fan base, buying success seems to be the option that most of the supporters prefer.

    As well as the options you mention there are also Michael Lowry and Angus Curtis in the Development squad with, in my opinion, McPhillips and Curtis the best option for the future. Unfortunately, I believe both are currently injured. I’ll be having a look at Lowry down in Thomond tonight so I’ll let you know how he gets on.

    To answer your question directly however, yes I would have preferred to see Nelson at 10 in an experienced back line, I think it would have done him the world of good, but you gotta remember buddy there are season tickets to be sold to all those eventists and local boys don’t appear to put bums on seats!

  2. Ginger Whinger on

    Ed., what are your thoughts on this Christian Lealiifano business. Peter Nelson has never let anyone done in the 10 shirt while Herron and McPhillips have never been given the chance.What’s the point of having these promising young players in the squad if they’re not given a decent opportunity (remember Tommy Seymore anybody?)

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