Gregor Townsend has named his first PRO12 side as Glasgow Warriors head coach for their meeting with Ulster at Ravenhill on Friday.
Gregor Townsend has named his first RaboDirect PRO12 side as Glasgow Warriors head coach for their clash with Ulster at Ravenhill on Friday.
Glasgow are determined to build on the positive form the side showed last term in reaching the semi-finals for the second time in three years.
Their opener pits them against a team who made the Heineken Cup final three short months ago, but the Warriors travel with confidence, having won five of their last six regular-season PRO12 games and after beating the Ravenhill side the last time they clashed, at Firhill last November.
Townsend's selection for the game sees him endorse a core of players who contributed heavily to the club's consistent form last season.
Henry Pyrgos and Duncan Weir team up in a lively half-back pairing, with experience behind the scrum being provided by the man with the most all-time Warriors appearances, centre Graeme Morrison, and returning wing Sean Lamont.
With Stuart Hogg nursing an ankle injury, Peter Murchie gets the opportunity to reprise his excellent 2012/13 showings at full-back, while Tommy Seymour is rewarded for his productive shifts in the pre-season games against Sale Sharks and Exeter Chiefs with a start at the home of his former club.
Up front, Gordon Reid, Finlay Gillies and Mike Cusack team up in the front-row, with the back-row seeing a welcome return of Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro and Ryan Wilson that served the Warriors so well for much of the campaign before the number eight suffered an untimely knee injury.
“All the players and coaches are massively excited about the season getting underway and the opportunity it brings to reap the benefits of the hard work everyone has put in over the past three months,” Townsend told glasgowwarriors.org.
“Playing Ulster away from home in a passionate environment like Ravenhill is certainly a big challenge, but one that the players will find inspiring rather than intimidating.
“We haven't won there for almost three years, but we only need look at results and performances like the win over Leinster at the RDS last season to know we have the ability and mentality to do the business when it counts away from home.
“It's a very tough opening assignment, but we have confidence in each other and in how we want to play.”
Meanwhile, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has handed competitive debuts to Sean Doyle, Nick Williams, Rob Herring and Michael Heaney for Friday's RaboDirect PRO12 game.
Doyle and Williams will be joined in the back-row by Robbie Diack, while Johann Muller continues as skipper in the engine room alongside Lewis Stevenson.
In the front-row, Irish qualified South African hooker Herring is joined by props Callum Black and John Afoa. Should replacement forward Tom Court come off the bench at any stage during the game it will mark the prop's 100th appearance for the province.
Behind the scrum, Heaney will start at scrum-half where he is partnered by Paddy Jackson at half-back. Luke Marshall and Chris Farrell will form an all new centre partnership in what is a youthful and energetic backline.
Right wing Michael Allen will make only his second ever appearance for the province, while Craig Gilroy – the most capped player in the backline with 43 caps – will play on the other flank. The back-three is completed by full-back Jared Payne who will play his first PRO12 game since he ruptured his Achilles tendon against Cardiff just over eleven months ago.
Anscombe, taking charge of his first competitive game with Ulster, is expecting a tough challenge from the travelling Scots.
“They have named a strong side as we expected and they will provide a formidable test. They have brought a few Internationals into the starting lineup and have another couple on the bench,” he said.
“We have a strong bench too but we will see how the game pans out. Our Internationals on the bench haven't played much rugby or had much contact but if we need to use them we will. I'm really excited about this game, hopefully we can start the season off with a good win.”
Form: Ulster begin the season with a home game for the sixth time in the past seven seasons, and beat Glasgow 28-14 at Ravenhill in round one last season. Ulster finished off last season's RaboDirect PRO12 tournament with three successive defeats, all to their three fellow Irish Provinces. The Ulstermen have won five of their last six clashes with Scottish opponents. Glasgow Warriors have won five of their last six regular season encounters in the RaboDirect PRO12, but have been triumphant just once in Ireland since 2009: 23-19 at Leinster on 17 September 2011. The two encounters between the teams last season were both won by the home side on the day, whilst the Warriors' most recent victory at Ravenhill was in December 2009.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Michael Allen, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Tom Court, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Niall O'Connor, 23 Darren Cave.
Glasgow: 15 Peter Murchie, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Henry Pyrgos, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Al Kellock (capt), 4 Tom Ryder, 3 Mike Cusack, 2 Finlay Gillies, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Dougie Hall, 17 Moray Low, 18 Ryan Grant, 19 James Eddie, 20 John Barclay, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Peter Horne.
Date: Friday, August 31
Kick-off: 19:05 BST
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant referees: Dudley Phillips (Ireland), Brian Macneice (Ireland)
Television match official: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Assessor: Jack Young (Ireland)