Iain Henderson has made a remarkable recovery from thumb surgery.
The Ulster lock was due to be out for 10-12 weeks after the procedure last month, meaning he was set to miss out on a large chunk of Ireland’s Six Nations defence.
He was named in Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations squad earlier this week and now he’s been selected in the Ulster team that will face Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in Saturday’s crucial Heineken Champions Cup Round 6 tie, in what will be his 100th appearance for the Province.
Henderson is the sole change to the starting XV that recorded a memorable win over Racing 92 at Kingspan Stadium last weekend, to leave Ulster’s quarter-final qualification destiny in their own hands.
Henderson’s return is a welcome boost to Dan McFarland’s squad, and he slots straight into the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell.
Henderson’s international team-mate Rory Best will captain the side from hooker, where he is joined by Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy prop Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore in the front row. Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee are once again named as the loose forwards.
Behind the pack, David Shanahan, who was a late call-up to the starting team last week, retains his place at scrum-half, with Billy Burns at fly-half. Stuart McCloskey and Will Addison are also retained in the midfield.
Jacob Stockdale and Academy prospect Robert Baloucoune, who jointly contributed Ulster’s three tries last week, continue on the wings, with Louis Ludik completing the back three.
On the bench, Rob Herring, Andy Warwick and Ross Kane will cover the front row, with Alan O’Connor and Nick Timoney named as the additional forward options. John Cooney, Michael Lowry and Darren Cave are selected as the backline reinforcements.
Ulster team to play Leicester Tigers, Heineken Champions Cup, Saturday 19th January, Welford Road (3.15pm):
(15-9): L Ludik; R Baloucoune, W Addison, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, D Shanahan;
(1-8): E O’Sullivan, R Best (captain), M Moore, I Henderson, K Treadwell, S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee;
Replacements (16-23): R Herring, A Warwick, R Kane, A O’Connor, N Timoney, J Cooney, M Lowry, D Cave.
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