Big-name Ulster signing Charles Piutau set for Kingspan debut
Ulster's home fans will get their first glimpse of new superstar Charles Piutau when their pre-season schedule wraps up against Northampton Saints at the Kingspan Stadium tonight (7.30pm kick-off).
After appearing against Exeter away last week, the All Black again starts at full-back, although scrum-half Ruan Pienaar misses out with an elbow injury so Paul Marshall will wear No.9.
With the PRO12 campaign beginning next Friday night against Dragons, Director of Rugby Les Kiss is still waiting to filter his Ireland internationals back into the fold but is keen to see how younger players again deal with experienced opposition from England's top tier.
"I think that our pre-season preparations have been good and there are some really solid things to take forward into the new season," said the former Irish defence coach.
"The fixture schedule has given some of our young players a chance to play against top Premiership opposition. That experience should stand them in good stead from a development perspective.
"It goes without saying that the Saints will provide us with a massive challenge.
"They have a very experienced team that is full of internationals, but it's exactly the type of fixture that we need at this early stage and it will be another good test for some of our young players."
With Wiehahn Herbst, Ricky Lutton and Johnny Simpson on the sidelines, former Methody Schools' Cup winner Ross Kane will back up Rodney Ah You at tighthead rather than appear in the 'A' side's curtain raiser against Canada 'A'.
"I'm pleased to see him get an opportunity for the seniors after injuries to three of our tightheads," added Kiss.
The visitors, meanwhile, certainly have no shortage of internationals and have brought a strong panel ahead of their own league opener against Bath next week.
England captain Dylan Hartley will start at hooker while visiting fans will be keen for a glimpse of their own new star, Louis Picamoles, who starts at No.8.
Ulster: C Piutau; L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Herron, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring (capt), R Ah You; P Browne, F van der Merwe; R Diack, C Ross, R Wilson.
Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, R Kane, A O'Connor, C Joyce, M Rea, D Shanahan, S Windsor, J Stockdale.