United Rugby Championship: Luke Marshall to play 150th game for Ulster, Springbok flyers return for the Bulls

David Skippers
Luke Marshall Ulster v Stormers URC 2022 - PA.jpg

The United Rugby Championship continues on Friday as three matches take place, including the highly anticipated Irish derby between Ulster and Leinster.

Bulls v Connacht

Bulls director of rugby Jake White has made six changes to his team that claimed a narrow home victory against Edinburgh in Pretoria last weekend.

The 2021/22 URC runners-up’s fans will be treated to the return of in-form Springboks, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie and Sbu Nkosi. Arendse and Moodie, both of whom quickly became fan favorites at Loftus with their electric pace and insane steps, will be high on confidence after making their Springbok debuts in recent months, scoring three tries between them at Test level.

Meanwhile, Nkosi, who is no stranger to the green and gold has made one appearance for the Bulls thus far and will also be looking to win over the Loftus faithful.

The aforementioned Bok trio will line up as the Bulls’ back three with Arendse starting at full-back. Elsewhere, Cornal Hendricks will partner David Kriel in the midfield, while Johan Goosen gets his first start in the number 10 jersey since returning from a long term injury that kept him out of the game for 11 months. The ever-industrious and busy Zac Burger retains his spot at scrum-half.

Up front, the loose trio gets a little shuffle as Marco van Staden starts at seven with Ruan Vermaak dropping out for this game and joining the Bulls XV that face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Captain Marcell Coetzee continues doing what he does best in the six jersey, with returning Springbok Elrigh Louw remaining in his ‘happy-place’ with the number eight on his back.

Ruan Nortje and Walt Steenkamp have formed a formidable pairing in the engine room over the last season, and will continue in that department for this game.

Francois Klopper earns a well-deserved start at tighthead prop, as Mornay Smith drops to the bench, with Johan Grobbelaar and Gerhard Steenekamp at hooker and loosehead respectively.

Meanwhile, Connacht head coach Andy Friend has rung the changes to his starting XV after last weekend’s defeat to the Stormers in Stellenbosch.

There are seven alterations in all, with David Hawkshaw handed his first Connacht start at fly-half. He forms a new-look half-back pairing with Kieran Marmion, while the only other change in the backs is the return of Tom Daly to inside centre. He partners Tom Farrell, with an unchanged back three of wingers Mack Hansen and John Porch and full-back Oran McNulty.

In the pack there’s a return for Dave Heffernan who forms a very experienced front-row with Denis Buckley and Finlay Bealham. There’s a new second-row pairing of Leva Fifita and Oisín Dowling, meaning Josh Murphy moves to blindside flanker. The rest of the back-row consists of openside flanker Conor Oliver and number eight Jarrad Butler, who also captains the side.

The management have opted for a six/two split on the bench and includes hooker Grant Stewart and Academy graduate Ciarán Booth, who will both make their debuts for the province if called upon.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 David Kriel, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Zak Burger, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Marco van Staden, 6 Marcel Coetzee (c), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Francois Klopper, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp
16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Reinhardt Ludwig, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Lionel Mapoe

Connacht: 15 Oran McNulty, 14 John Porch, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 David Hawkshaw, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jarrad Butler (c), 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Josh Murphy, 5 Oisín Dowling, 4 Leva Fifita, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Dave Heffernan, 1 Denis Buckley
16 Grant Stewart, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Jack Aungier, 19 Gavin Thornbury, 20 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Byron Ralston, 23 Ciarán Booth

Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 BST, 16:30 GMT)
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Griffin Colby (South Africa)
TMO: Matteo Liperini (Italy)

Ulster v Leinster

Ulster born and bred, Luke Marshall, is set to run-out in front of his home crowd at Kingspan Stadium for his 150th appearance in Friday’s derby with Leinster.

After an explosive return from injury saw him score the first try of the new season against Connacht, Academy graduate Marshall is once again set to form the centre partnership with Stuart McCloskey, who himself hit the 150-cap milestone the last time the Leinster men were in town.

In a homegrown back three unchanged from last week’s victory over the Scarlets, and with an average age of 24, winger Jacob Stockdale will be looking to add to his impressive tally of 27 carries in the United Rugby Championship so far. He is once again joined by fast-as-lightening Aaron Sexton, who made his first start for the province last week, alongside full-back Michael Lowry who played his part in Ulster making the most metres in Round Two, with a personal tally of 143.

Last weekend’s Player of the Match, scrum-half John Cooney, who was in unstoppable form with 30 points to his name by the end of a fast-paced win over former Ulster coach Dwayne Peel’s side, is again coupled with fly-half Billy Burns, who crossed the whitewash for Ulster’s fifth try on Saturday past.

Captain Alan O’Connor, meanwhile, retains his position at lock, and is joined in the second-row by Kieran Treadwell in a starting line-up which sees only one change from last week’s win. Matty Rea will be joined in the back-row by brother, Marcus, who is becoming synonymous with the turnover, and Ireland international, Nick Timoney, at Number eight.

Hooker, Rob Herring, will bring his experience gained in the Ireland jersey once again to set-up as he is joined in the front-row by props Andy Warwick and Tom O’Toole, who are both products of Ulster’s Academy pipeline.

Forward cover will be provided by John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Marty Moore, who contributed to last week’s try tally, Sam Carter, and Greg Jones while David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, and Ben Moxham are on the backs on the bench.

Meanwhile, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has named a strong matchday 23 for this encounter.

Garry Ringrose again captains the side from outside centre, with Robbie Henshaw in the number 12 jersey beside him. Elsewhere in the backs, it’s the same back three for Cullen with Jimmy O’Brien, Jordan Larmour and Dave Kearney selected as a trio for the second weekend in succession.

It’s a new half-back combination this week however, with Luke McGrath retained in the number nine jersey but he is joined by Ross Byrne.

To the pack and there is only one change for Cullen from last week, with the same front five selected for the game in Belfast against the team at the top of the URC table.

Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Michael Ala’alatoa form the front row, with Ross Molony and Jason Jenkins behind them in the second-row.

Ryan Baird and Josh van der Flier are again selected at blindside and openside flanker, with Jack Conan the final change to the XV, coming in for his first appearance of the new season.

James Ryan and Johnny Sexton are both in line to make their first appearance of the season should they be introduced.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Aaron Sexton, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 John Cooney, 8 Nick Timoney, 7 Marcus Rea, 6 Matty Rea, 5 Kieran Treadwell, 4 Alan O’Connor (c), 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick
16 John Andrew, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Greg Jones, 21 David Shanahan, 22 Angus Curtis, 23 Ben Moxham

Leinster: 15 Jimmy O’Brien, 14 Jordan Larmour, 13 Garry Ringrose (c), 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Ryan Baird, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Michael Ala’alatoa, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter
16 Rónan Kelleher, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Vakhtang Abdaladze, 19 James Ryan, 20 Will Connors, 21 Nick McCarthy, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Charlie Ngatai

Venue: Kingspan Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Eoghan Cross (Ireland), Andrew Cole (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

Cardiff v Lions

Lopeti Timani will make his first start in Cardiff colours as the Lions visit the Welsh capital on Friday evening.

Following his summer arrival from Toulon, the Tongan international has made two appearances from the replacementsbench in the opening weeks of the United Rugby Championship.

However, with Dai Young’s side looking to bounce back from last week’s defeat to Glasgow, Timani comes into the run-on side to form a second-row partnership with Seb Davies.

A reshuffle in the back-row sees Taulupe Faletau returning to the number eight jersey after a Player of the Match display in the win over Munster, with James Botham and captain Josh Turnbull occupying the flanks.

Elsewhere, Theo Cabango recovers from a shoulder injury to take his place on the left wing, replacing the injured Josh Adams. The academy product enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season and will make his first appearance of 2022/23 in a back three that includes Aled Summerhill and full-back Rhys Priestland, who slots into the number 15 jersey following injuries to Liam Williams, Jacob Beetham and Matthew Morgan.

Rey Lee-Lo is reunited with Max Llewellyn in midfield while Jarrod Evans and Tomos Williams continue their half-back partnership.

A double change in the front-row sees Brad Thyer and Liam Belcher joining Dillon Lewis in the starting XV.

Meanwhile, Lions head coach Ivan van Rooyen has made two alterations to his run-on side after their triumph over the Ospreys last weekend.

The only backline change sees Henco van Wyk coming in at outside centre where he replaces Zander du Plessis, who has been relegated to the replacements bench.

Elsewhere, Van Rooyen has brought in Pieter Jansen van Vuren into his second-row where he packs down alongside the team’s captain, Reinhard Nothnagel. Van Vuren takes over from Ruben Schoeman.

Meanwhile, Lions head coach Ivan van Rooyen has made two alterations to his run-on side after their triumph over the Ospreys last weekend.

The only backline change sees Henco van Wyk coming in at outside centre where he replaces Zander du Plessis, who has been relegated to the replacements bench.

Elsewhere, Van Rooyen has brought in Pieter Jansen van Vuren into his second-row where he packs down alongside the team’s captain, Reinhard Nothnagel. Van Vuren takes over from Ruben Schoeman.

The teams:

Cardiff: 15 Rhys Priestland, 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Max Llewellyn, 11 Theo Cabango, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 James Botham, 6 Josh Turnbull (c), 5 Seb Davies, 4 Lopeti Timani, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brad Thyer
16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dmitri Arhip, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Mason Grady, 23 Uilisi Halaholo

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Henco van Wyk, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Quan Horn, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (c), 4 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Sti Sithole
16 Jaco Visagie, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Ruhan Straeuli, 21 Morne van dern Berg, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Zander du Plessis

Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
Assistant referees: Craig Evans (Wales), Carwyn Williams (Wales)
TMO: Ben Blain (Scotland)

READ MORE: United Rugby Championship: Bulls teen Canan Moodie looking to apply lessons learned at Test level