Ulster v Exeter Chiefs: Charles Piutau on the ball for European crunch game
Ulster's European hopes have been given a massive lift after Charles Piutau and Ruan Pienaar were passed fit to take on Exeter Chiefs in tonight’s crucial Champions Cup tie (7.45pm kick-off, Kingspan Stadium).
Piutau, the province’s big-name addition this summer, has missed the last two games with a concussion sustained at the beginning of the month but has come through his return-to-play protocols this week and will start on the left wing.
Star scrum-half Pienaar had also been a doubt having left last week’s game with Bordeaux-Begles with a knee injury but is fit to wear the nine jersey against the Aviva Premiership side.
Both teams need a win to keep realistic hopes of the quarter-finals alive.
Piutau is not the only change to the Ulster side after last week's loss to Bordeaux-Begles with Les Kiss making alterations to his pack for the visit of Rob Baxter's men.
Rotation at loosehead continues with Andy Warwick dropping to the bench and Kyle McCall packing down alongside Rory Best and Rodney Ah You in the front-row.
Franco van der Merwe continues in the engine room with his partner this evening being Pete Browne. The former Newcastle man's elevation into the starting line-up sees Alan O'Connor drop down into the replacements.
The final change to the side sees Roger Wilson return to No.8 after being a substitute last time out.
With Sean Reidy switching back to his more familiar openside role, and Iain Henderson still at blindside, Clive Ross is back to the bench.
The backline, however, is unchanged apart from the return of Piutau, meaning Jared Payne is retained at full-back with Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding again the midfield pairing.
Skipper Andrew Trimble, with co-captain Rob Herring on the bench, is on the opposite wing to Piutau while Pienaar again links up with Paddy Jackson.
With Craig Gilroy the man making way for the All Black back-three player, it is a hugely experienced backline bench for the hosts.
And with Paul Marshall again backing up Pienaar at scrum-half and British and Irish Lion Tommy Bowe back and ready for action, the replacement backs all boast well over 100 senior appearances each for their native province.