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Henry injury blow means Henderson is skipper for first time

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster have been dealt a blow ahead of tonight's Champions Cup opener against Wasps at Kingspan Stadium (7.45pm kick-off) with the news that flanker Chris Henry will miss the game with a larynx injury.

The man who had been captaining the side in the absence of skipper Rory Best at the start of the season appeared to pick up the knock in the win over Connacht last week, although did initially keep playing before ultimately being subbed with less than half an hour to go.

The 32-year-old, a key figure in Ulster's back-row, is joined on the absentees list by Alan O'Connor after the lock picked up a concussion, while Best, Jared Payne, Craig Gilroy and Schalk van der Merwe are all still out.

Henry's absence means Iain Henderson captains the side for a first time in the second row, while Sean Reidy comes in at seven with Jean Deysel at eight.

With Henderson taking O'Connor's place in the engine room, Robbie Diack comes back in at blinside flanker, with Clive Ross and Mattie Rea coming onto the bench, and the front-row trio of Kyle McCall, Rob Herring and Wiehahn Herbst is unchanged.

There is one alteration behind the pack with Louis Ludik coming onto the wing for Tommy Bowe, who takes his place among the replacements with Andrew Trimble, one appearance away from establishing a new Ulster record, again outside the 23.

Charles Piutau, facing his former side who he led to the semi-finals in 2016, remains at full-back with in-form Jacob Stockdale on the wing.

Christian Leali'ifano makes his Champions Cup debut from the out-half position, with John Cooney again at scrum-half after an impressive start to his own Ulster career.

Having combined together for a second time this season against Connacht last week, Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey are retained in midfield.

For all the talk of an injury crisis, Wasps themselves have been boosted by the returns of Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes and Jimmy Gopperth to the side.

Launchbury, who missed last week's loss to Saracens, is straight back in to captain the side while former Leinster out-half Gopperth gets the nod at 10.

The out-half is not the only Irish connection in the visitors' ranks, with 10-times capped Marty Moore the side's back-up tight-head and fellow Leinster native Brendan Macken starting at inside centre.

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