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Heineken Cup: David McIlwaine gets big Ulster chance

David McIlwaine will make his Heineken Cup debut tomorrow afternoon at Parc des Sports Aguiléra

The inclusion of the 21-year-old is one of four changes of personnel — plus one positional switch — to the Ulster side which registered a 30-6 bonus-point win over Aironi at Ravenhill in last weekend’s Pool 4 curtain-raiser.

The others see BJ Botha return to the tight head side of the front row, Stephen Ferris included on the open side flank and Ian Whitten named in the centre.

McIlwaine and Whitten replace the injured Jamie Smith (shoulder/rib) and Darren Cave (hamstring) at full-back and centre respectively.

With Rory Best packing down between Botha and Tom Court, that gives Ulster what most would consider to be their strongest front three.

Botha’s return to fitness, having recovered from the wrist injury he suffered against Connacht in Galway two weeks ago, sees Court switching to his more familiar loose head role.

Ferris's restoration after being hurt early on that same night at the Sportsground is at the expense of Irish international colleague Chris Henry.

That will have been a much harder decision for coach Brian McLaughlin — himself a former flanker, of course.

With Ferris having been given the number seven jersey, big Springbok Pedrie Wannenburg continues on the blind side. Not surprisingly, fellow South African Robbie Diack is retained at No 8 following his man of the match performance against Aironi.

Henry’s inclusion on the much-changed bench meant there was no place for the unlucky Willie Faloon on this morning’s flight to Biarritz. Instead he is in Swansea with the Ulster Ravens, who play this afternoon, as is that side’s captain Nigel Brady.

Brady’s role as hooker Rory Best’s understudy in Biarritz has gone to Andi Kyriacou.

Bryan Young, who started at number one last week, drops down to join Paddy McAllister as one of the seniors’ two replacement props, so ousting young Alan Whitten.

Paul Marshall is the replacement scrum-half, with Nevin Spence and Irish-qualified Australian Adam D'Arcy providing the back-line cover following the upgrading of McIlwaine and Whitten to the starting line-up.

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It’s a bold, attack-minded formation, with Ulster packing plenty of punch right across the back line.

True, with four tries in 31 outings, Whitten is not quite king of the finishers.

But he is a very solid player and with Paddy Wallace alongside him, Andrew Trimble, Simon Danielli and McIlwaine behind and wide of that pair and Ruan Pienaar and Ian Humphreys the halves, Ulster have no shortage of pace or vision in the back line.

Up front, McLaughlin has kept faith with those who have served him best and in whom, on current form, he has most faith.

The front three pick themselves and with Johann Muller a guaranteed second row starter it was down to who should partner him.

Tim Barker’s form has been top notch so it is right that he got the nod.

Having Dan Tuohy in the wings underlines Ulster's new strength in depth, too.

The back row will have given McLaughlin most headaches with five first-rate applicants for three jobs.

But as the coach himself put it: “Nice sort of problem.”

Sunday's match will be shown live on Sky Sports via the Red Button (3:00pm)

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