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Best and Jackson returning from Ireland heroics is ideal boost for big Euro showdown, says Kiss

By Jonathan Bradley

Director of Rugby Les Kiss has welcomed the return of Ireland stars Rory Best and Paddy Jackson just in time for the Champions Cup visit of Clermont this afternoon (1pm kick-off).

With Ireland having undertaken a bumper November - Joe Schmidt's side faced four fixtures during the Autumn Internationals - neither of the pair have played for their province since the last round of European fixtures when Ulster overcame Exeter Chiefs in a Kingspan Stadium Saturday night nail-biter.

While all of the Ireland camp will have returned home with a spring in their step after a history-making month, Ulster have been unlucky with the injury toll, losing Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne and Stuart Olding for, at the very least, today's game.

"The boys have done a great job in the November series for Ireland and they're super keen to get back and do a job for us this weekend. It's great to have them back," said Kiss.

"It's not ideal to have the injuries that we do but that's the reality.

"We always try and back the whole squad and that's what we're doing."

Another Irish international, Craig Gilroy, was injured in last week's PRO12 win over Cardiff while Franco van der Merwe has also missed out after coming off early in the Arms Park seven days ago.

In their places, Louis Ludik comes onto the wing for his first start since breaking his cheekbone against Connacht early in October, while Robbie Diack shifts into the second-row having missed the visit to the Welsh capital.

The reshuffle also means possible Champions Cup debuts off the bench for a pair of youngsters in Jacob Stockdale and Kieran Treadwell.

"Part of the deal is that we want to grow options across the park in different positions," added Kiss.

"Kieran Treadwell has really done well. He's worked really hard on his body shape and his skill set and he deserves another chance.

"We'll give Robbie Diack a go at lock. He's worked really well in training.

"He's been very impressive with his work in the set-piece and it gives us someone who can take over the calling of the line-out."

Best's return, and Rob Herring's subsequent demotion to the bench, means that Ireland's latest centurion returns to the side as captain, having given up the permanent position at the end of last season. Kyle McCall and Wiehahn Herbst will again be his props, with Andy Warwick and Rodney Ah You held in reserve.

Alongside Diack will be Pete Browne, while Kiss has been able to retain an Irish-capped back-row in the shape of Chris Henry, Iain Henderson and Sean Reidy.

Clive Ross will be the loose forward among the replacements where he joins the experienced duo of Darren Cave and Paul Marshall.

Jackson's return to the 10 jersey, where he will be alongside familiar half-back partner Ruan Pienaar, and Ludik's promotion to the run-on side, are the only changes to the back-line for the big game.

With Charles Piutau and Tommy Bowe also in the back-three, Ulster possess plenty of aerial threat, while Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall will look to again provide some go forward from the midfield.

One area where Kiss has called for a marked improvement in the wake of the win over Cardiff is his side's discipline.

Both Henderson and Luke Marshall spent time in the sin bin a week ago.

And while Ulster actually outscored their opponents during those 20 minutes, Kiss has warned that they won't be so lucky against a side like Clermont.

"The yellow cards from last week, we can't do that against Clermont," he said.

"That'd be dangerous for sure," he added.

"One of them was unlucky, but despite that you've got to make strong decisions in your own half.

"We can't fault the referee - we have to be better at our discipline," the Ulster chief stressed.

Belfast Telegraph


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