Preview: Ulster v Exeter Chiefs

Date published: October 21 2016

Charles Piutau will make his Champions Cup debut for Ulster on Saturday after being named in the team to face Exeter at Kingspan Stadium.

Piutau is the only change to the backline which played against Bordeaux-Bègles on Sunday, as he replaces Craig Gilroy on the left wing.

Ruan Pienaar has recovered from a knee injury and is joined in the starting XV by Ireland backs Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Luke Marshall, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne.

There are three new faces in the starting pack, with Kyle McCall, Pete Browne and Roger Wilson all selected by director of rugby Les Kiss.

McCall will join Rory Best and Rodney Ah You in the front-row, while Browne is paired with Franco van der Merwe in the engine room.

Wilson’s inclusion at the base of the scrum means that Sean Reidy will shift to openside flanker, with Iain Henderson continuing in the number six jersey.

The replacements bench features front-row players Rob Herring, Andy Warwick and Ross Kane, along with fellow forwards Alan O’Connor and Clive Ross. Gilroy, Paul Marshall and Tommy Bowe, who have amassed 453 Ulster caps between them, provide experienced backline cover.

Meanwhile, with England international Luke Cowan-Dickie the latest addition to the treatment room at Sandy Park with an ankle injury, Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has again tweaked his squad ahead of kick-off.

Club captain Jack Yeandle is promoted from the bench to fill the void left by Cowan-Dickie at hooker, while behind Mitch Lees comes into the second-row for Damian Welch.

In the back division, former Ulster player Ian Whitten moves into the centre to form a new partnership alongside Henry Slade, while James Short is recalled on the left wing.

On the bench, Elvis Taione and Jonny Hill get their first taste of competitive first team action this season, while Jack Maunder – debutant last weekend – gets another crack alongside Sam Hill and Ollie Devoto.

Form: This will be the first meeting between the clubs, and Ulster will be the third province from the Emerald Isle Exeter have faced in Europe. They lost twice to Leinster in the Champions Cup in 2012/13, but beat Connacht twice in the Challenge Cup in 2014/15. Ulster lost their last home game against Premiership opposition (v Saracens last season), however, they’ve not lost consecutive home games against clubs from England since losing their first four games between 1996 and 2001. Exeter have won just twice away from home in the competition (L8), and both of those wins came in Wales. Despite suffering their biggest home defeat in the Champions Cup since their first home game in 2012, Exeter had more time in possession than any other side in Round 1 (23m 46s). Ulster won their final two home pool games of the 2015/16 campaign by a combined scoreline of 94-3, beating Toulouse and Oyonnax.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble (c), 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rory Best, 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Alan O’Connor, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Craig Gilroy, 23 Tommy Bowe

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Henry Slade, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Kai Horstmann, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Moray Low
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Ollie Devoto

Date: Saturday, October 22
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)
Assistant Referees: Thomas Charabas (France), Cédric Clavé (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet Campin (France)