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Dan McFarland welcomes James Hume and Michael Lowry back to the starting team after injury as Ulster need to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing defeat against the Ospreys.

Tomorrow’s opposition lie six points off Ulster in second and will only have three away fixtures remaining at the conclusion of tomorrow’s game – two of which are against Dragons and Southern Kings. It’s safe to say Cheetahs have a handy run in.

The front row remains unchanged from last week’s encounter and is made up of Eric O’Sullivan, Adam McBurney and Marty Moore. Alan O’Connor captains the side in the second row along with Kieran Treadwell while Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee are the back row trio.

Billy Burns and Stuart McCloskey have not been released from the Irish camp so Bill Johnston and James Hume start at out half and inside centre. Dave Shanahan is the scrum half while Luke Marshall adds his experience to the centre. Louis Ludik and Robert Baloucoune remain on the wings while Michael Lowry makes his first start of the season at full back.

A win is a must tomorrow and one where Cheetahs get nothing that would increase the gap to ten points, something that would ease the pressure momentarily for Ulster.

The Cheetahs are lead by the influential Ruan Pienaar who makes his first appearance at Kingspan Stadium since his final game for Ulster in 2017. I’ve no doubt we’ll see Pienaar’s talent once again and he’ll certainly have part to play on determining the outcome of the game. 

The dangerous Rhyno Smith starts on the right wing for the visitors and leads the league’s try scoring charts with ten. He scored a double when the sides last met at the start of October, playing at a pace that Ulster could not handle. Dan McFarland’s men were comprehensively beaten but still came away with a losing bonus point thanks to a late Craig Gilroy try.

Watch out for Junior Pokomela at openside for the visitors who’s great at the breakdown and possesses a great amount of pace. They’ve a useful maul as well as the dynamic Joseph Dweba to come off the bench at hooker. He’s tied second on tries scored this year with seven.

The weather will have an affect on the game tomorrow. In Bloemfontein in October the game was played in humid but dry conditions which favoured the South Africans while tomorrow’s forecast predicts dry but breezy conditions which should play into the hands of the home side.

It’s great to have Hume and Lowry back fit. The former made an impressive start to the season with an impressive display in the opening round against the Ospreys while was one of the better players in the heavy defeat against Cheetahs in round two.

Although Lowry has not featured much this season, he was a breath of fresh air last year as he dug his side out of a hole amid an injury crisis and has bags of ability. I think we’ll see the former RBAI man exploit some gaps from the Cheetahs kick chase tomorrow.

Undoubtedly Ruan Pienaar will grab most of the attention tomorrow and I have no doubt he’ll be given a warm welcome pre-match before being serenaded with a chorus of ‘who are ya’ or ‘dodgey kicker’ if he makes a mistake.

The FRU predicts: This is a match that Ulster should win. It’s likely to be a high scoring affair as 238 points have been scored in the three meetings so far. I think Ulster will win with a bonus point but I fancy Ruan Pienaar and co to bag four tries late on.

Ulster   Cheetahs
Michael Lowry 15 Clayton Blommetjies
Robert Baloucoune 14 Rhyno Smith
Luke Marshall 13 William Small-Smith
James Hume 12 Benhard Janse van Rensburg
Louis Ludik 11 Craig Barry
Bill Johnston 10 Tian Schoeman
Dave Shanahan 9 Ruan Pienaar
Eric O’Sullivan 1 Boan Venter
Adam McBurney 2 Wilmar Arnoldi
Marty Moore 3 Luan de Bruin
Alan O’Connor 4 Sintu Manjezi
Kieran Treadwell 5 Walt Steenkamp
Nick Timoney 6 Chris Massyn
Jordi Murphy 7 Junior Pokomela
Marcell Coetzee 8 Jasper Wiese
     
John Andrew 16 Joseph Dweba
Andrew Warwick 17 Charles Marais
Tom O’Toole 18 Aranos Coetzee
David O’Connor 19 JP du Preez
Sean Reidy 20 Aidon Davis
Jonny Stewart 21 Tian Meyer
Stewart Moore 22 Louis Fouche
Craig Gilroy 23 Chris Smit
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