Ulster skipper Best back in the fray for Ulster’s huge French test
Ulster have been handed a huge boost ahead of tomorrow’s Champions Cup Pool One clash against La Rochelle at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre (3.15pm kick-off) with the news that Rory Best is fit to take some part after overcoming a hamstring problem.
The meeting between two teams, who kicked off their European campaign with a win last weekend, promises to have a huge bearing on which side from this group makes the quarter-finals, and the visitors will be thrilled to have their and Ireland’s skipper back to make a return from the bench.
Ulster’s head coach Jono Gibbes had appeared to rule out the 35-year-old hooker earlier in the week but, having not played since the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, he passed a late fitness test ahead of today’s departure to the Bay of Biscay and will take the number 16 jersey.
Also making his return is Andrew Trimble, belatedly becoming Ulster’s most capped player.
The winger drew level with recently retired back-rower Roger Wilson on 221 Ulster outings but has not featured in either of the past two games against Connacht and Wasps.
He is back in his favoured 14 jersey tomorrow though, in what is a side displaying a relatively healthy dose of rotation.
With Jacob Stockdale scoring for fun in recent weeks, the youngster has to be content with a place on the bench with last week's substitute, Tommy Bowe, back to partner Trimble on the other wing. Joining Stockdale and Best among the replacements will be John Cooney, who doesn't start for just the second time this season.
It means Paul Marshall gets the nod at scrum-half for his 199th Ulster cap, with Robbie Diack set to go one better should he come off the bench.
Darren Cave, who like Trimble has not featured in the match-day squad since the shock loss to Zebre, is also back in the centre, but Christian Leali'ifano, Stuart McCloskey and Charles Piutau have all kept their place in the backline.
Up front, Kyle McCall gets a rare rest with a place on the bench alongside Rodney Ah You, with Callum Black, Rob Herring and Wiehahn Herbst forming the front-row. Alan O'Connor has recovered from the concussion that kept him out of the win over Wasps and joins Kieran Treadwell in the engine room with Iain Henderson, still captaining the side, switching to the back-row.
He joins Chris Henry, back from his larynx injury, and Sean Reidy in the loose forwards with Mattie Rea set for his European debut should he be called upon, but Jean Deysel misses out.