Preview: Ulster v Toulouse

Date published: December 10 2015

Ireland hooker Rory Best returns to captain Ulster in Friday's Champions Cup Pool 1 clash against Toulouse at Ravenhill.

Best will start in the front row alongside Wiehahn Herbst and Kyle McCall, who supporters recently voted as Ulster's Player of the Month for November.

Alan O'Connor has been given the opportunity to start in the second row with the experienced Franco van der Merwe, while Robbie Diack, Chris Henry and Nick Williams will make up the loose forward trio.

There is a new centre partnership with Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall combining in midfield. Craig Gilroy is recalled onto the left wing, with Andrew Trimble occupying the right wing berth and Louis Ludik completing the back three. Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson will continue to direct play from the half-back positions.

Rob Herring, who led Ulster to a 14-7 PRO12 win over Edinburgh last weekend, is named on the replacements bench along with fellow forwards Andy Warwick, Ricky Lutton, Clive Ross and Roger Wilson. Paul Marshall and Ian Humphreys will again provide back up for Pienaar and Jackson, with Rory Scholes also included in the matchday squad.

Speaking ahead of the fixture, Ulster's Director of Rugby, Les Kiss, is well aware of the threat posed by Toulouse.

"They are predictably unpredictable," he said. 

"They have a massive squad that is full of internationals, so that gives them some really good options all over the park. 

"They're second in the Top 14 so it's a huge challenge for us, but the boys have shown great character and we'll step up to the plate. Hopefully the conditions are good and the supporters will see a quality game of rugby."

Meanwhile, Toulouse have made five changes, including two positional switches, to their run-on side which did duty against Oyonnax in the Top 14 last weekend.

In the back-line, Gael Fickou comes in at outside centre for Toby Flood, who moves in a position to inside centre where he replaces Florian Fritz.

The only other change in the backs sees Maxime Médard taking over from Arthur Bonneval on the left wing.

Up front, Thierry Dusautoir switches from blindside to openside flank where he replaces Tala Gray, while Yacouba Camara will wear the number six jersey.

There's one more change to the back row with Louis Picamoles coming in at the expense of Imanol Harinordoquy while Yoann Maestri takes over from Romain Millo-Chluski in the second row.

Amongst the replacements, Gregory Lamboley and Jean-Marc Doussain come into the matchday 23 as loose forward and back-line cover respectively.

Form: Ulster have won three of their four home matches against Toulouse in the Champions Cup including a 30-3 victory the last time these sides met in Belfast. The spoils are split evenly between these teams overall in the Champions Cup however with each side earning three wins and a draw in the seven games between the two. Ulster have won only two of their last eight Champions Cup matches, this after winning six in a row prior to that. Ulster lost their last home game against French opposition, but won five in a row against teams from France before that.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy; 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Alan O'Connor, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Clive Ross, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Rory Scholes

Toulouse: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Sébastien Bézy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Joe Tekori, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Vasil Kakovin
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Edwin Maka, 20 Gregory Lamboley, 21 Gillian Galan, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Alexis Palisson

Date: Friday, December 11
Venue: Ravenhill
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)