No Rory Best or Iain Henderson in Ulster team
Five changes to team that drew with Munster for Champions Cup playoff against Ospreys
John Cooney has proven his fitness and is in the Ulster XV to face Ospreys on Sunday. Photograph: Inpho
Robbie Diack, Callum Black and Charles Piutau will play their final games in Ulster colours after being named in the starting team for Sunday’s Champions Cup play-off against Ospreys (Kingspan Stadium, 3.05pm).
The coaching team have been boosted by the return of John Cooney and Piutau, the duo missed the trip to Munster earlier this month due to concussion and personal reasons respectively.
That means that there are five personnel changes to the starting XV that drew 24-24 at Thomond Park.
Cooney will start at scrumhalf and he will resume his halfback combination with Johnny McPhillips, who will start for the ninth consecutive game.
Piutau’s inclusion at fullback sees Louis Ludik switch to the right wing berth, with Jacob Stockdale named on the other flank. Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall will form a familiar partnership in midfield.
Diack, who is set to earn his 206th Ulster cap on Sunday, will be joined in the back row by Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney.
With Best out injured, Herring comes in to start at hooker and will also take over the captaincy role. Callum Black and Ross Kane will pack down either side of their skipper, while Alan O’Connor and Treadwell are paired in the second row.
ULSTER: Charles Piutau; Louis Ludik, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Jonny McPhillips, John Cooney; Callum Black, Rob Herring (captain), Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney;
Replacements: John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Jack Regan, Chris Henry, Dave Shanahan, Darren Cave, Craig Gilroy.
OSPREYS: Sam Davies; Jeff Hassler, Ashley Beck, Owen Watkin, Hanno Dirksen; Dan Biggar, Tom Habberfield; Nicky Smith, Scott Otten, Dmitri Arhip; Bradley Davies, Alun Wyn Jones (capt); Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, James King.
Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Rhodri Jones, Ma’afu Fia, Adam Beard, Sam Cross, Matthew Aubrey, Cory Allen, James Hook.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)