ULSTER HAVE BEEN handed a much-needed boost with the news four key players have returned to fitness in time for Saturdays Heineken Champions Cup opener against Leicester Tigers in Belfast.
Jordi Murphy, Craig Gilroy and Will Addison have all shaken off injuries to be named in Dan McFarlands side for the visit of Geordan Murphys Tigers, while Marty Moore is in line for his Ulster debut off the bench at Kingspan Stadium [Ko 5.30pm, BT Sport].
Murphy has recovered from an ankle injury he sustained during his debut appearance for the northern province last month and starts in a back row unit alongside Marcell Coetzee — who will make his European debut — and Nick Timoney.
Moore, meanwhile, could make his long-awaited debut having been sidelined with a calf injury since his summer arrival from Wasps.
The fit-again Gilroy makes up an exciting back three alongside academy fullback Michael Lowry and Jacob Stockdale, while Addison is back in the side to partner Stuart McCloskey in midfield.
Billy Burns will make his Champions Cup debut for the club at out-half, having previously played in the competition for Gloucester, with John Cooney contuining at scrum-half.
Rory Best will skipper the side from hooker and will pack down in the front row alongside Ross Kane and Andy Warwick.
Coetzee and Murphy will combine in an explosive back row that also features the impressive Timoney, while Iain Henderson and Al OConnor are paired together in the second row.
Having lost back-to-back inter-pros to Munster and Connacht, Ulster are in desperate need of an opening-day victory against their Premiership opponents, with McFarlands honeymoon period in charge very much over.
History is, however, on Ulsters side with the province winning all four of their previous home games against Leicester.
As for Leicester, interim head coach Murphy has two changes in personnel to his side, with both David Denton and Jonny May ruled out through injury.
England international May misses out with the shoulder injury suffered in the win over Northampton Saints at Twickenham last Saturday, but Wallabies Matt Toomua and Tatafu Polota-Nau come back into the 23 after the Rugby Championship.
15. Michael Lowry 14. Craig Gilroy 13. Will Addison 12. Stuart McCloskey 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Billy Burns 9. John Cooney
1. Andrew Warwick 2. Rory Best 3. Ross Kane 4. Alan OConnor 5. Iain Henderson 6. Marcell Coetzee 7. Jordi Murphy 8. Nick Timoney
16. Adam McBurney 17. Eric OSullivan 18. Marty Moore 19. Kieran Treadwell 20. Sean Reidy 21. David Shanahan 22. Angus Curtis 23. Angus Kernohan.
15. Jonah Holmes 14. Adam Thompstone 13. Manu Tuilagi 12. Kyle Eastmond 11. Jordan Olowofela 10. George Ford 9. Ben Youngs
1. Greg Bateman 2. Tom Youngs (c) 3. Dan Cole 4. Mike Williams 5. Harry Wells 6. Guy Thompson 7. Brendon OConnor 8. Sione Kalamafoni
16. Tatafu Polota-Nau 17. David Feao 18. Joe Heyes 19. Sam Lewis 20. Tommy Reffell 21. Sam Harrison 22. Matt Toomua 23. Gareth Owen.
Craig Gilroy, Jordi Murphy, Will Addison and Michael Lowry return to the Ulster team for the Champions Cup opener against Leicester in Belfast.
Leicester make two changes with wing Jordan Olowofela coming in for the injured Jonny May while flanker Brendon OConnor replaces David Denton.
Ulster have won all four of their previous home games against Leicester, the victories coming with an average margin of 23 points.
“Weve picked up a few bumps and bruises but were also starting to get a few other players back from injury,” said Tigers interim head coach Geordan Murphy.
“Jonny May got a bang on the shoulder last week and there is no major damage so it will certainly not be a long-term injury, but injuries also give opportunities to others to come in and make a claim to the shirt.
“Europe is always tough, Ulster have a very good record at home and weve not done well there in the past, but the guys want to test themselves at the top table and were looking forward to it.”
The quintet return for Ulster after recovering from injury while Marty Moore is back on the bench, also following a lay-off.
Ulster: M Lowry; C Gilroy, W Addison; S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; A Warwick, R Best (capt), R Kane, A OConnor, I Henderson, M Coetzee, J Murphy, M Timoney.
Replacements: A McBurney, K Treadwell, E OSullivan, M Moore, S Reidy, D Shanahan, A Curtis, A Kernohan.
Leicester: J Holmes; A Thompstone, M Tuilagi, K Eastmond, J Olowofela, G Ford, B Youngs; G Bateman, T Youngs (capt), D Cole, M Williams, H Wells, G Thompson, B OConnor, S Kalamafoni.