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Stewart is handed his first start as Kiss opts to rest Cooney

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster Academy scrum-half Jonny Stewart will make his first start for the senior side when they take on Leinster in the RDS this evening (5.35pm kick-off).

The Ireland Under-20 international, who has been playing his club rugby for Queen's while in the second year of a law degree, made his debut as a substitute in the reverse fixture at Kingspan Stadium back in October, before also coming on as a replacement against the Southern Kings out in South Africa.

Since then, outings in the nine jersey have been split between the in-form John Cooney and double-centurion Paul Marshall.

But with Marshall injured and Cooney having started the province's last seven games, Stewart will start with the latter backing up on the bench.

Elsewhere, the Ulster team looking to bank consecutive inter-pro wins after Monday's dramatic victory over Munster is largely as expected.

Rory Best is back to skipper the side after missing four games with a foot infection, while his fellow British and Irish Lion Iain Henderson is back at lock after sitting out the Munster victory.

Having helped save the game from the bench last time out, Callum Black is restored to the loosehead jersey, while on Best's other side, Les Kiss has kept faith with the fit-again Rodney Ah You.

Joining Henderson in the engine room will be Pete Browne, with the former Newcastle man back from the cold having spent the majority of his time this season turning out for Ballynahinch in the All-Ireland League.

Sean Reidy has recovered from his dead leg to regain his place in the back-row, an especially timely boost given Chris Henry is out once again.

Reidy will be joined in the loose-forward trio by Mattie Rea and Jean Deysel, with Nick Timoney dropping to the bench.

Stewart will have the guiding hand of Christian Leali'ifano outside him in the 10 jersey, in what will be his last PRO14 game before going home to Australia, and it's the same again in midfield where Darren Cave and Stuart McCloskey are both retained.

It's all change in the wing spots, though, where injury has ruled out Craig Gilroy and Rob Lyttle.

That pair accounted for three of Ulster's four tries on Monday night, but will be replaced by a pair of Irish internationals in the shape of Andrew Trimble and Jacob Stockdale. Charles Piutau will round off the back-three.

Belfast Telegraph

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