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Youngster Shanahan handed his first start in win or bust clash

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster have put their faith in Dave Shanahan ahead of the make or break European contest with Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park tomorrow evening (5.30pm kick-off).

The 23-year-old from Dublin made his debut for his adopted province all the way back in 2013 but the must-win clash in Devon will be a first start for the senior side.

With Ruan Pienaar injured -the usual occupant of the nine jersey had knee surgery last week but is expected to make his return in early February - Paul Marshall had started the defeat at the hands of Scarlets last time out with Shanahan coming off the bench.

Les Kiss has, however, opted to switch the pair for the crunch tie against last season's Premiership finalists.

Shanahan, who has also been togging out for Ballymena in the All-Ireland League this season, will be making his 11th appearance.

He will have plenty of experience behind him, however, with Paddy Jackson - the match winner when these two sides met back in October - again anchoring a backline that boasts only one further change.

Superstar All Black Charles Piutau is restored to the side, having been rested for the trip to Parc y Scarlets, with his return sparking a back-three reshuffle.

While Louis Ludik remains at full-back, where Piutau has had plenty of time this year, the Kiwi takes a spot on the right wing which sees Andrew Trimble switch to the No.11 jersey and Jacob Stockdale make way.

The youngster has earned a spot on the bench though, with two-time British and Irish Lion Tommy Bowe travelling to Devon only as 24th man.

Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall are retained in the midfield with former Bath youngster Brett Herron covering both the centre and out-half from the bench.

Up front there are more personal milestones.

There is a first European start for tight-head prop Ross Kane, who continues to make strides at the coalface, and he will be joined in the front-row by the vastly experienced duo of loosehead Callum Black and Ireland captain Rory Best at hooker.

Covering Kane on the bench will be Johnny Simpson, who will make his Champions Cup debut if called upon, while reserve hooker John Andrew has appeared just once before at this level.

Like Kane, lock Kieran Treadwell makes his first ever European start as he joins Pete Browne in the engine room, but there is a much more battle hardened look to Ulster's back-row.

Iain Henderson reverts to blindside flanker while Chris Henry, fresh from a two-year-deal, and Sean Reidy also start.

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