Ulster v Saracens preview: Henderson returns for Ulster’s European Championship Cup opener
Ulster takes on Saracens in Friday’s European Champions Cup game (19:45 kick-off)
Iain Henderson will make his first appearance of the season for the Irish province
Brad Barritt will captain Sarries on his 150th appearance
Visitors make two changes with Schalk Brits and flanker Jacques Burger drafted in
Ireland World Cup star Iain Henderson makes his return from injury for Ulster tonight as they kick off their European Champions Cup campaign against Saracens at Kingspan Stadium.
The flanker, who is also set to make his 50th appearance for the Irish province, has been out of action since picking up a hand injury in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Argentina, but has recovered in time for their clash with the reigning Premiership champions.
The hosts experienced line-up also includes skilled internationals Andrew Trimble, Ruan Pienaar and Rory Best.
Friday night will be Ulster’s opening game of the competition as last weekends organised opener against Oyonnax was postponed due to the terror attacks in Paris while Saracens ran in three tries against the four-time winners Toulouse at Allianz Park to head straight to the top of Pool 1.
During the 2014/15 Champions Cup, Ulster finished with just two wins and a draw from their six pool matches, which was their worst performance in Europe’s premier cup competition since the 2008/09 season.
Meanwhile, Saracens, who reached the semi-final last term, will be led out by Brad Barritt on his 150th appearance for the club. The England international centre, who has been at the club since 2008, will lead out Saracens in Belfast as they look to maintain their perfect start to the 2015/16 season following five straight wins in all competitions.
Mark McCall, Sarries head coach has only made two changes to the side that comfortably overcame Toulouse at Allianz Park last weekend with hooker Schalk Brits coming in while flanker Jacques Burger also returned following his one-week suspension.
The weekend of Champions Cup action starts off with a bang as Ulster begin their European adventure at home to Pool leaders Saracens. Both sides have named big, physical starting XV’s. Reigning Premiership champions Saracen’s are probably the slight underdogs, but they have started their season strongly, meaning they could cause an upset in Ireland tonight. Saracens by 3
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ulster: Rory Best
Seasoned international hooker Rory Best was one of Ireland’s standout performers at the 2015 Rugby World Cup with his accurate lineout throwing and ferocious scrummaging being at the heart of Ireland’s best performances. He is one of the best, if not the best No.2 in the northern hemisphere and his proficiency at the set piece may give the hosts the edge.
Saracens: Jacques Burger
Sarries robust back-row Jacques Burger will put it all on the line for his club, often putting his team before his health with some spine-tingling tackles. The Saracens man’s bravery and quality make him one of their standout stars, and you would suspect if Saracens are to upset the odds in Ireland tonight then he will have a good game.
Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 Kyle McCall, 17 Rob Herring, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Peter Nelson
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 George Kruis, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil De Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Marcelo Bosch
Date: Friday, November 20
Kick-off: 21:45 GMT
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Cyril Lafon (France), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)