Ian Madigan in line for Ulster debut as Aki reaches milestone

New Ulster signing to start among the replacements along with Alby Mathewson

New signings Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan will start on the Ulster replacements bench for Sunday's interprovincial derby against Connacht at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 4.30pm).

Outhalf Billy Burns will lead the team out in what will be their first taste of competitive action in six months following the season's interruption due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Burns will be joined at halfback by John Cooney, and the pair will be hoping to help guide Ulster to a place in the Pro14 playoff series. They require two points from their remaining two regular season games.

In the back three, Jacob Stockdale is selected at fullback, and will be joined on the wings by Louis Ludik and Craig Gilroy. James Hume - aged 21 - will form a midfield partnership with Stuart McCloskey.

Rob Herring will start at hooker with props Jack McGrath and Marty Moore making up an Irish international frontrow. Alan O'Connor will partner with Kieran Treadwell in the secondrow, while Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee have been named as the starting loose forwards.

Along with Mathewson and Madigan, Australian international lock Sam Carter is also on the bench. He is set to make his first appearance since November following his return from shoulder rehab.

Bundee Aki is to become the latest Connacht centurion after he was named to start on Sunday. Aki joined Connacht in 2014 and has gone on to play a central role in the province’s fortunes since then. He was named Guinness Pro12 Player of the Season in 2015/16, the same year he helped the team to their first ever title.

Elsewhere at least two players will make their Connacht debuts on Sunday with Alex Wootton and academy graduate Peter Sullivan both named on the wings. They form a back three with John Porch who slots in at fullback.

Tom Farrell will partner Aki in the centre with Irish internationals Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty forming a formidable halfback partnership.

In the forwards there's a return to action for prop Finlay Bealham after he sustained a serious injury against Edinburgh in February. He makes up an experienced frontrow with Denis Buckley and hooker Dave Heffernan.

Ultan Dillane and Gavin Thornbury have been named in the secondrow, and the starting XV is completed by flankers Eoghan Masterson and captain Jarrad Butler, with Paul Boyle at number eight.

Three more players could make their Connacht debuts off the bench, with props Jordan Duggan and Jack Aungier, and backrow Conor Oliver all included.

ULSTER: Jacob Stockdale; Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Billy Burns (Capt), John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Marty Moore; Alan O'Connor, Kieran Treadwell; Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O'Sullivan, Tom O'Toole, Sam Carter, Matthew Rea, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Michael Lowry.

CONNACHT: John Porch; Peter Sullivan, Tom Farrell, Bundee Aki, Alex Wootton; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Finlay Bealham; Ultan Dillane, Gavin Thornbury; Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler (Capt), Paul Boyle.

Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Jordan Duggan, Jack Aungier, Niall Murray, Conor Oliver, Stephen Kerins, Conor Dean, Tom Daly.