Preview: Ulster v Wasps

Date published: October 12 2017

1999 winners Ulster host two-times champions Wasps at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night to kick off the 2017/18 Champions Cup season.

Iain Henderson will captain Ulster for the first time on Friday night.

Henderson, with 77 Ulster caps to his name, will lead a starting XV that features 12 internationals.

Director of Rugby Les Kiss has made three personnel changes, while the one positional switch will see Henderson move from blindside flanker to second row.

Two of the new faces are among the loose forwards as Robbie Diack and Sean Reidy are introduced alongside Jean Deysel, who will make his Champions Cup bow for Ulster.

John Cooney and Christian Lealiifano will also make their European debuts for the Province.

Kieran Treadwell will partner Henderson in the engine room, while the front row of Kyle McCall, Rob Herring and Wiehahn Herbst is unchanged from last week’s 16-8 win versus Connacht.

The one backline change sees Louis Ludik (right wing) earn selection in the back three along with Charles Piutau and Jacob Stockdale, who will be aiming to build on his strike rate of four tries in four games this season.

Cooney, a Heineken Cup winner with Leinster in 2012 with, is paired with Lealiifano at half-back for the sixth time, while Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall will combine in midfield once again.

John Andrew, Rodney Ah You, Paul Marshall and Pete Nelson again provide cover from the replacements bench, with Callum Black, Matty Rea, Clive Ross and Tommy Bowe also named in the match day 23.

Meanwhile, Wasps are boosted by the return of captain Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes and Jimmy Gopperth, whilst there’s also a return to the starting line-up for Christian Wade and Dan Robson in Wasps’ backline and Jake Cooper-Woolley and Tom Cruse in the front row.

Ahead of the European Rugby Champions Cup opening fixture, Dai Young said:

“The Kingspan Stadium is a great venue to play rugby, as I always found during my time coaching Cardiff, and our squad really enjoyed the atmosphere there in our pre-season game. It’s a fantastic stadium, always ram-packed and the supporters really get behind the team.

“Ulster have a quality squad, with threats throughout, so you have to be at your best if you are to get a result there. I’m sure they will have ordered some rain in again as well – I don’t think I’ve ever been there on a Friday night when it hasn’t been bucketing down!

“We’ve parked the Premiership to one side for now and we’re really looking forward to getting stuck into a new tournament. We’ve dusted ourselves down and it’s a good time for us to switch to a new competition with the slate wiped clean.

“We go to Belfast with a smile on our faces, ready to enjoy the experience as that’s when we play our best rugby. If we can produce the standard of rugby we know we’re capable of, there’s no reason why we can’t get a result.

“All players want to play the best teams, in the best competitions, in the best grounds, and that’s what it will be on Friday night, so it should be a fantastic contest for fans to watch.”

Form: Wasps have won five of the six meetings between the two clubs in European competition. Ulster prevailed in their last home meeting in 2001-02. Ulster have won 13 of their last 17 home matches against English opposition at the Kingspan Stadium. No player beat as many defenders in the Pool stage last season as Ulster’s Charles Piutau (28). The former All Black is well known to his opponents this week, having also topped this chart two seasons ago in the colours of Wasps.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Iain Henderson (c), 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matty Rea, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Pete Nelson, 23 Tommy Bowe

Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Brendan Macken, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (c) 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Rob Miller, 23 Marcus Watson

Date: Friday, October 12
Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 19:45 local (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Rhys Thomas, Wayne Davies
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)

Domestic rugby takes a break as the Champions Cup Pool stages begin across Europe. Read our Betsafe preview at their site.