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Jono Gibbes makes EIGHT changes to Ulster team for Southern Kings clash in Guinness Pro 14

Alan O'Connor will captain Ulster for the first time.
Alan O'Connor will captain Ulster for the first time.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Ulster have named a total of eight changes to their team for Friday evening's visit of Southern Kings.

Alan O'Connor, a graduate of the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy, will captain the side for the first time, in what is Head Coach Jono Gibbes' opening game in charge.

Gibbes has named a much-changed line-up from the crushing defeat to Wasps that proved to be Les Kiss' last match at the helm after causing the team's exit from the Champions Cup.

Four of those are enforced thanks to Christian Leali'ifano's departure coupled with Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale and Rory Best's inclusion in the Ireland Six Nations panel.

But Gibbes has opted to make four more alterations to the line-up, dropping four players to the bench.

Hooker Rob Herring has been released from Ireland duty and provides cover from the bench, as do Ireland U20 duo Matthew Dalton and Jonny Stewart, although there is no place in the panel for Jean Deysel.

Flyhalf Johnny McPhillips, who has made four appearances as a replacement, will make his first senior start. Also in the backline, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy return from injury lay-offs to earn starting berths at outside centre and right wing respectively. Marshall had been out since October with an Achilles injury while Gilroy is back after a fractured cheekbone.

Rob Lyttle is the other inclusion in the backline as Darren Cave and Louis Ludik drop to the bench while Ireland star Jacob Stockdale and Christian Leali'ifano, who has returned to his Australian side Brumbies for the start of the Super Rugby season, of course drop out.

McPhillips will have experience either side of him in the form of scrumhalf John Cooney and inside centre Stuart McCloskey, while Rob Lyttle and Charles Piutau will join Gilroy in a potent back three combination.

In the forward line, Andy Warwick, John Andrew, Wiehahn Herbst and Matty Rea all come in. Dropping out of the pack are Ireland duo Rory Best and Iain Henderson while Rodney Ah You and Kyle McCall are named on the bench.

Gibbes has opted for Warwick, Andrew and Herbst in the front row, with Treadwell partnering O'Connor at lock. The loose forwards are Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney.

Ulster's game against Southern Kings kicks off at Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening at 7.35pm.

Ulster team to play Southern Kings

(15-9): C Piutau; C Gilroy, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; J McPhillips, J Cooney;

(1-8): A Warwick, J Andrew, W Herbst, A O'Connor (captain), K Treadwell, M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney;

Replacements (16-23): R Herring, K McCall, R Ah You, M Dalton, C Henry, J Stewart, D Cave, L Ludik.

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