Preview: Oyonnax v Ulster

Date published: January 8 2016

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Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss has made eight changes to his XV for this week's Champions Cup tie with Oyonnax at Stade Charles-Mathon.

In line with the player management programme which he and Neil Doak outlined earlier this week, Kiss will rest some established players who've completed a long sequence of games over December and the New Year, but he's delighted to welcome Craig Gilroy back into the starting line-up. The Ireland winger will return to the team at full-back, with Louis Ludik providing cover from a strong bench.

Sammy Arnold will start his first European game on the right wing, with Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall continuing their midfield partnership. Rory Scholes occupies the left wing berth.

Ian Humphreys and Paul Marshall are selected at half-back with Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar named on an experienced replacements' panel.

Prop Wiehahn Herbst hasn't recovered from a knock he received last weekend; Ricky Lutton takes his place in the front-row alongside captain Rory Best and Kyle McCall.

Callum Black, Rob Herring and Bronson Ross will provide front-row cover from the bench.

Lewis Stevenson replaces Alan O'Connor, who also hasn't recovered from a knock he picked up against Munster, in the second-row alongside Franco van der Merwe.

There is one change in the back-row, after a physically demanding stretch of games, Nick Williams is replaced at number eight by Roger Wilson. Williams will be joined by Sean Reidy on the bench. Robbie Diack and Chris Henry remain on the flanks.

Meanwhile, Oyonnax are currently bottom of Pool 1 after three successive defeats but have still included the likes of Maurie Fa'asavalu and former Ulster player Pedrie Wannenburg in their back-row alongside Pierrick Gunther.

Nicky Robinson is fly-half alongside Julien Blanc while Eamonn Sheridan, a former Leinster and London Irish centre, lines up at number twelve.

Form: This will be the first ever meeting between the sides in European competition while Oyonnax will be facing Irish opposition for the first time. Oyonnax lost their first home game of this season's competition; however they lost just once in their six Challenge Cup home fixtures (W4, D1). Having won none of their first 14 away games in France (L13, D1) in the Champions Cup Ulster have now won three of their last four. Leon Power is one of two players to have managed three lineout steals in this season's competition so far (with Bath's Dave Atwood). Ulster have been forced to make more tackles per game (151) than any other side so far, yet they still have the second best tackle success rate (91 percent). Oyonnax on the other hand have the worst tackle success rate (79 percent) in the competition this season, missing an average of 27 hits per game so far.

The teams:

Oyonnax: 15 Quentin Etienne, 14 Dug Codjo, 13 Alaska Taufa, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Uwa Tawalo, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Julien Blanc, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 6 Pierrick Gunther, 5 Fabrice Metz, 4 George Robson, 3 Marc Clerc, 2 Jeremie Maurouard, 1 Laurent Delboulbès.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bordes, 17 Stan Wright, 18 Horace Pungea, 19 Leon Power, 20 Viliami Maafu, 21 Arthur Aziza, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Daniel Ikpefan.

Ulster: 15 Craig Gilroy, 14 Sammy Arnold, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Rory Scholes, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Paul Marshall, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Nick Williams, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Paddy Jackson, 23 Louis Ludik.

Date: Sunday, January 10
Venue: Stade Charles Mathon
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix (England), Andrew Small (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)

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