Preview: Ulster v Oyonnax

Date published: January 22 2016

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Ulster centre Darren Cave has recovered from a shoulder injury and will feature for the first time since the start of December.

Stuart McCloskey gets a well-earned rest after playing all 16 of Ulster's matches this season. Number eight Nick Williams is also back in the fray. 

New Ireland captain Rory Best has minor back tightness and has not been able to train fully this week, so he will start the game on the bench. That means that Rob Herring, who has been named in Ireland's squad for Rounds 1 and 2 of the Six Nations, will deputise as both hooker and captain.

Ruan Pienaar has been ruled out by illness, while Wiehahn Herbst has a foot injury, so Paul Marshall and Ricky Lutton come into the side at scrum-half and tighthead prop respectively.

Herring and Lutton are joined in the front row by Kyle McCall, with Alan O'Connor and Franco van der Merwe continuing in the engine room. Robbie Diack and Sean Reidy will again pack down either side of Williams in the back row.

Marshall is joined at half-back by Paddy Jackson, with Cave and Luke Marshall combining in midfield. The back three consists of Andrew Trimble, Craig Gilroy and Jared Payne, who will make his first home appearance of the season for Ulster.

Commenting on his selection, the Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, said: "It's great to have Darren (Cave) and Nick (Williams) back in the team.

"We welcomed Jared (Payne) back last week and that was pleasing for us too. With Rory (Best) on the bench it's another opportunity for Rob (Herring) to show what a great player and what a great leader he is. Ruan (Pienaar) has been struggling with illness all week so he is unavailable, but we know that Paul (Marshall) will come in and do a fantastic job for us.” 

Following their 32-14 bonus win over Toulouse last week, Kiss is expecting a tough encounter against Oyonnax: "They are a good team and they will provide a big challenge for us. We need to stay focused on our game, make our tackles, start the match with the right attitude and play with discipline, because they can hurt you if you give the ball away easily. They showed that last week against Toulouse and against us a fortnight ago.

"We know our best chance of going through will be by earning a bonus point victory so to give ourselves the best chance we need to play with accuracy and work hard for each other for 80 minutes. We're optimistic that we can get the job done and with the unpredictability of this competition, there's a real chance for us to go through. Hopefully there will be a good crowd at Kingspan and we can give them something to cheer about.”

Meanwhile, Oyonnax have made 14 changes after their win over Toulouse in Round 5.

Geoffrey Fabbri is the only survivor from last weekend as he keeps his place in the second row, partnered this week by Leon Power.

Pedrie Wannenburg, Pierrick Gunther and Valentin Ursache form a new back row as Rory Clegg gets the nod at fly-half.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Paul Marshall,  8 Nick Williams, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Callum Black, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Rory Scholes

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Daniel Ikpefan, 13 Guillaume Bousses, 12 Alaska Taufa, 11 Dug Codjo, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Julien Blanc, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Pierrick Gunther, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Geoffrey Fabbri, 4 Leon Power, 3 Giorgi Vepkhvadze, 2 Thomas Bordes, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha

Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Laurent Delboulbès, 18 Horace Pungea , 19 Fabrice Metz, 20 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 21 Fabien Cibray, 22 Regis Lespinas, 23 Eamonn Sheridan

Date: Saturday, January 23
Venue: Ravenhill
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Simone Boaretto (Italy)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (Italy)

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