Cooney back in as Ulster make FIVE changes to team for crunch La Rochelle clash
Ulster have made a total of five changes to their line-up for their all-important match against La Rochelle.
Craig Gilroy and Louis Ludik return to the backline while John Cooney is in at scrum-half and both Alan O'Connor and Nick Timoney return to the pack for Saturday's Champions Cup clash (kick-off 1pm).
That means Andrew Trimble, Peter Browne, Jean Deysel and Jonny Stewart miss out while Darren Cave drops to the bench.
Ulster will be looking to bounce back from the crushing 38-7 defeat to Leinster at the RDS, especially on a day that sees Christian Leali-ifano make his final appearance in a white jersey at Kingspan Stadium. He partners Cooney at half-back.
Ludik joins Stuart McCloskey in midfield, while Gilroy, Jacob Stockdale and Charles Piutau, who leads the way for metres made in this year's tournament (454), will make up the back three.
Alan O'Connor is re-instated in the second row, where he is paired with Iain Henderson. Banbridge RFC's Timoney will pack down at number 8, with Matty Rea and Sean Reidy named as the other loose forwards.
Rory Best will again lead the side and he will combine with Callum Black and Rodney Ah You in the front row.
Johnny McPhillips could make his European debut after being included among the replacements. He is joined on the bench by Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Chris Henry, Dave Shanahan and Cave.
Kane, who was initially named in the Ulster A team for this evening's British & Irish Cup tie, has been called up to the senior squad as Wiehahn Herbst is ruled out due to a slight calf issue.
Ulster Rugby team to play La Rochelle
(15-9): C Piutau; C Gilroy, L Ludik, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Lealiifano, J Cooney;
(1-8): C Black, R Best (captain), R Ah You, A O'Connor, I Henderson, M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney;
Replacements (16-23): R Herring, K McCall, R Kane, K Treadwell, C Henry, D Shanahan, J McPhillips, D Cave.
Belfast Telegraph Digital