Preview: Clermont v Ulster

Date published: December 16 2016

Clermont boss Franck Azema has made five changes for his side’s Champions Cup match with Ulster this weekend at the Stade Marcel Michelin.

David Strettle’s injury means a return on the wing for France international Noa Nakaitaci, while Isaia Toeava comes in at full-back in place of Scott Spedding.

Raphaël Chaume is another injury-enforced change for Clermont, with Etienne Falgoux making his European debut for the club, while rising star Arthur Iturria comes in at lock.

The final change sees Damien Chouly captain the side this week from number eight, moving from blindside flanker where Georgia international Viktor Kolelishvili comes into the back row.

Meanwhile, director of rugby Les Kiss has made just one change to the starting XV for Ulster’s Champions Cup clash.

Franco van der Merwe will come into the second row to replace his fellow South African native Robbie Diack, who has been ruled out by injury and could be out for up to four weeks.

The rest of the matchday squad remains unchanged, which means captain Rory Best and props Kyle McCall and Wiehahn Herbst will make up the front row, with Ireland trio Iain Henderson, Chris Henry and Sean Reidy named in the back row.

Half-backs Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson are again joined in the backline by Stuart McCloskey, Luke Marshall, Louis Ludik, Tommy Bowe and Charles Piutau.

Kieran Treadwell, who made his Champions Cup bow last weekend, is again named on the bench alongside fellow forwards Rob Herring, Andy Warwick, Rodney Ah You and Clive Ross.

Jacob Stockdale could make his European debut at Stade Marcel Michelin after being named among the replacements, while Paul Marshall and Darren Cave complete the matchday 23.

Form: Clermont are still at the top of the Pool 5 standings despite losing in the corresponding fixture at Ulster last weekend. The French outfit currently have 12 points from three matches after picking up two bonus points at the Kingspan Stadium and impressive wins over Exeter Chiefs and Bordeaux-Begles in their first two matches. Ulster will be hoping to make it back-to-back Pool 5 wins against Clermont after claiming a famous 39-32 success in Belfast last weekend. A second victory in eight days could see Ulster top the pool going into 2017, if Bordeaux-Begles fail to beat Exeter Chiefs on Saturday. The Ulstermen have won two games on the bounce, and will look to extend their run at the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin on Sunday.

The teams:

Clermont: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly (c), 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Viktor Kolelishvili, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphaël Chaume
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Michael Simutoga, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Peceli Yato, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 22 Patricio Fernández, 23 Aurélien Rougerie

Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Sean Reidy, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Peter Browne, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Darren Cave, 23 Jacob Stockdale

Date: Sunday, December 18
Venue: Stade Marcel-Michelin
Kick-off: 16:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Simone Boaretto (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)