Ulster aiming to keep hungry Cheetahs at bay

Jono Gibbes looking to a winning start as province’s new head coach

Ulster v Cheetahs, Kingspan stadium (7.35, live on BBC 2)

It’s very much a case of firsts in Belfast on Friday night, an expanded tournament, a debutant South African franchise and a plethora of new faces on and off the pitch. The Cheetahs will want to mark their first match in the tournament with a victory.

Ulster have a new coaching team in place in Jono Gibbes and Dwayne Peel, while Christian Lealiifano, John Cooney and Jean Deysel all make their competitive bows for the province. Lealiifano, who has 19 caps for Australia, will preside over a backline missing several familiar faces, one of whom is Craig Gilroy, sidelined until November after suffering a stress fracture to his back in a pre-season game against Wasps.

Tommy Bowe switches to outside centre, a role he's filled before with Ulster, the Ospreys and the Lions, to facilitate the inclusion of Andrew Trimble and Louis Ludik on the wings.


It's interesting that South African-born, Irish international Robbie Diack is named in the second row with Jean Deysel joining Marcell Coetzee and stand-in captain Chris Henry in the backrow.

The Cheetahs will have plenty of grunt, but also possess, an abundance of pace in the back three exemplified by fullback-cum-wing Sergeal Petersen and also on the bench in the form of Sevens star Cecil Afrika.

Ulster know the importance of a good start to build some confidence and positivity in front of their home supporters, something they should be able to accomplish, even without several internationals.

ULSTER: C Piutau; A Trimble, T Bowe, S McCloskey, L Ludik; C Lealiifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst; R Diack, Alan O'Connor; Jean Deysel, Chris Henry (capt), M Coetzee.  Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, R Ah You, M Rea, S Reidy, D Shanahan, P Nelson, D Cave.

CHEETAHS: S Petersen; R Specman, W Small-Smith, A Mgijima, M Mapimpi; C Blommetjies, S Venter; C Marais, J du Toit, J Coetzee; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, N Jordaan (capt). Replacements: T van Jaarsveld, O Nche, T Botha, R Bernardo, G Olivier, T Meyer, C Afrika, R Benjamin.

Referee: A Brace (Ireland)

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer