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Ulster welcome back Ireland wing Robert Baloucoune for European clash with Northampton Saints

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Robert Baloucoune is back from injury for Ulster's trip to Northampton Saints

Robert Baloucoune is back from injury for Ulster's trip to Northampton Saints

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Robert Baloucoune is back from injury for Ulster's trip to Northampton Saints

Ireland winger Robert Baloucoune is back from injury and has been thrown straight back into the action from the off in Ulster’s Heineken Champions Cup pool clash with Northampton Saints on Sunday (3:15pm).

The wing suffered a shoulder injury against the Ospreys in early December but has fully recovered and has been named in an exciting back-three alongside Mike Lowry and Ethan McIlroy.

There is also good news in the centre where in-form James Hume has recovered from a hamstring strain picked up in last week’s defeat to Munster and will start beside Stewart Moore at Franklin’s Gardens.

Scrum-half Nathan Doak will make his first European start as he deputises for the injured John Cooney, with the 20-year-old one of seven changes to the team that started at Thomond Park a week ago.

The other four come in the forwards where the props rotate, Andrew Warwick and Marty Moore coming into start, while in the second row Kieran Treadwell is included in the run-on team, as is flanker Marcus Rea.

Not surprisingly, head coach Dan McFarland has gone for his strongest line-up as Ulster look to secure home advantage in the knockouts, with the province second in Group A after wins over Clermont and Saints in the opening two rounds.

It is a talented back line that will head to Northampton on Sunday, with the outside backs serviced by Doak at scrum-half and Ireland fly-half Billy Burns, with Baloucoune’s return adding a new dimension to the team.

Up front, Ireland hooker Rob Herring completes the front row with Warwick and Moore either side of him, while captain Alan O’Connor has a new partner in the second row in the form of abrasive ball carrier Treadwell.

Openside Nick Timoney and No.8 Duane Vermeulen retain their jerseys from the game at Thomond Park a week ago and they will be joined by Rea at blindside to complete the starting team.

Despite Wales international hooker Bradley Roberts being back from injury, John Andrew continues as Herring’s back-up, with Eric O’Sullivan recalled for the first time since November as replacement loosehead prop.

There could also be a first Ulster appearance since June for fly-half Ian Madigan, who is named among the replacements, with Ben Moxham in line for a first European appearance if called upon as well.

Tighthead Tom O’Toole round out the front row substitutes, with lock Sam Carter and flanker Greg Jones adding extra ballast, while David Shanahan is are the extra replacement in the backs.

Meanwhile, England and Lions flanker Courtney Lawes will lead the Saints on his 250th appearance for the team, with 19-year-old centre Tom Litchfield making his European debut in Sunday's contest.

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ULSTER

15. Mike Lowry; 14. Robert Baloucoune, 13. James Hume, 12. Stewart Moore, 11. Ethan McIlroy; 10. Billy Burns, 9. Nathan Doak; 1. Andrew Warwick, 2. Rob Herring, 3. Marty Moore; 4. Alan O’Connor (captain), 5. Kieran Treadwell; 6. Marcus Rea, 7. Nick Timoney, 8. Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: 16. John Andrew, 17. Eric O’Sullivan, 18. Tom O’Toole, 19. Sam Carter, 20. Greg Jones, 21. David Shanahan, 22. Ian Madigan, 23. Ben Moxham.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS

15. George Furbank; 14. Courtnall Skosan, 13. Tom Litchfield, 12. Rory Hutchinson, 11. Tom Collins; 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Alex Mitchell; 1. Alex Waller, 2. Sam Matavesi, 3. Paul Hill; 4. David Ribbans, 5. Brandon Nansen; 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Lewis Ludlam (captain), 8. Teimana Harrison.

Replacements: 16. James Fish, 17. Emmanuel Iyogun, 18. Ehren Painter, 19. Api Ratuniyarawa, 20. Alex Coles, 21. Juarno Augustus, 22. Tom James, 23. Tommy Freeman.


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