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Christian Lealiifano to make his Ulster debut against the Cheetahs

Christian Lealiifano will make his first appearance for Ulster on Friday in the Guinness PRO 14 opener against the Cheetahs at the Kingspan Stadium.

After fighting a year long battle with leukemia, the new Ulster signing arrived in Belfast last week having feared he would never play rugby again.

The 19 times capped Australian is already itching for his first action after being handed the chance of a European move that last August he thought may have been lost forever.

He said: "To come through the other side is truly rewarding.

"I'm really grateful and humbled that a team still values what I can produce and what I can do."

Summer signings Jean Deysel and John Cooney will also make their debuts for the Province, having both lined out during the pre-season fixtures.

Friday's match will mark a momentous chapter in the history of the PRO14 Championship, as Southern Hemisphere sides join the competition for the first time, with the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs making their maiden trip to Belfast.

Cooney and Lealiifano will have their first chance to form a new half back partnership, while Stuart McCloskey and Tommy Bowe will link up in midfield.

Louis Ludik, Andrew Trimble and Charles Piutau will form a back three combination.

Chris Henry will captain the side from openside flanker, with the South African duo of Deysel and Marcell Coetzee at blindside and number 8 respectively.

The front five is made up of Kyle McCall, Rob Herring and Wiehahn Herbst in the front row, with Robbie Diack and Alan O'Connor paired once again in the second row.

Back row forward Matthew Rea could earn his first Ulster cap, as he is included in the replacements along with fellow forwards John Andrew, Callum Black, Rodney Ah You and Sean Reidy. David Shanahan, Peter Nelson and Darren Cave will provide the backline cover from the bench.

Meanwhile, Craig Gilroy has a stress fracture in his lower back and he is expected to be out of action until late November.

The match is to kick off on Friday at 7.35pm.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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