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Gilroy poses massive threat following return from injury setback

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster have been boosted by the return to fitness of Craig Gilroy ahead of their must-win Champions Cup clash with Oyonnax.

The Irish international fractured a cheek bone against Toulouse when Ulster were last in European action and comes straight back into a starting line-up tomorrow that is without Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar and Andrew Trimble.

Gilroy gets the nod at full-back and, at just 24, is by far the most experienced member of the back-three.

With Trimble - fresh from winning his 200th cap against Munster last week - rested from the 23, Sammy Arnold makes his first European start in the number 14 jersey while Rory Scholes is on the other wing.

Louis Ludik, who had been carrying a knock from the Munster game, provides cover for the outside backs from the bench.

With Jackson and Pienaar, who have been relied upon heavily in recent weeks, starting the game among the replacements, it is experienced reserve duo Ian Humphreys and Paul Marshall who are pulling the strings from half-back.

The decision by Les Kiss to hand some of his star names a breather comes as the province begin a run of three consecutive European games that also includes a trip to Saracens and Oyonnax's return visit to Belfast.

While the exclusion of Pienaar, Jackson and Trimble will be felt, there remains plenty of experience in the side.

After returning from Ireland's training camp at Carton House, Rory Best remains at hooker and captains the side with Kyle McCall again on his loosehead side.

There is a change in the three jersey with Wiehahn Herbst's leg injury seeing him replaced by Ricky Lutton. That means Bronson Ross comes onto the bench with Rob Herring and Callum Black the other front-rowers held in reserve.

Alan O'Connor is another who has failed to overcome a knock, meaning Ulster's engine room is comprised of Lewis Stevenson and Franco van der Merwe for a second week in succession.

There is one change in the back-row with Roger Wilson coming in at number 8 and Nick Williams dropping to the bench.

Robbie Diack and Chris Henry are again the flankers and, with the South African blindside able to be deployed at lock, Sean Reidy is on the bench in addition to Williams.

In the centre, with Darren Cave and Jared Payne nearing fitness but still on the sidelines, Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey are again Kiss's choice after Joe Schmidt cast his eye over both earlier this week.

After suffering an emphatic loss at the hands of local rivals Grenoble last weekend, that reverse coming on the back of beating Top 14 champions Stade Francais at home a week prior, Oyonnax remain preoccupied with the threat of relegation and are above only Agen in their domestic table.

With no prospect of European progression in this their first season in the Champions Cup, rookie head coach Johann Authier has adjusted his selection accordingly.

Former All Blacks scrum-half Piri Weepu is not among the 23, nor is former Northampton Saints favourite Soane Tonga'uiha.

Romanian international Valentin Ursache is another who is saved for battles ahead while former Connacht man Fetu'u Vainikolo is also not involved.

There is one hugely familiar face for Ulster fans, however, with former favourite Pedrie Wannenburg selected at number 8 for the hosts.

The 20-times capped Springbok arrived at Kingspan in 2010, and was an important part of the side who made the Heineken Cup final of 2012, before joining Castres that summer.

Another player with experience of Irish rugby, former Leinster prop Stan Wright, begins the game on the bench.

Belfast Telegraph

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