Ulster looking for another five-point haul as Lions enter their Belfast lair

Dan McFarland has named an unchanged side for Friday night’s clash

Craig Gilroy is closing in on 200 Ulster caps and makes his 197th appearance in Friday night’s game against the Emirates Lions. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ulster v Emirates Lions, Kingspan Stadium, Friday, 7.35 – Live on RTÉ2 and Premier Sports 1

Hardly a better time or place for Ulster to have their first shot at one of the newly arrived South African franchises than an autumnal Friday night at the Kingspan.

Align that with the fact that Dan McFarland’s side are arriving at URC’s round four off the back of three bonus-point victories and it hardly resembles the most promising of situations for the Emirates Lions who have, so far, only just about seen off Zebre Parma.

Though Ulster have made it known that the Lions offer significant threat up front – the South Africans only narrowly lost out at Glasgow last week – the northern province will be expecting to prevail and, ideally, yet again take ownership of another five points, even with their still hefty list of absentees.

As such, McFarland has opted for an unchanged starting side from the one which swatted Benetton aside last Friday with prop Andy Warwick deemed fit enough to start after departing last time out after just three minutes with a dislocated finger.


Indeed, the only alterations McFarland has made have been to his bench where Kieran Treadwell is given his first involvement of the season after recovering from injury, with Mick Kearney making way, while Eric O’Sullivan comes in for Callum Reid who played virtually the whole game against the Italians after Warwick’s early departure.

The occasion will mark the in-form Craig Gilroy’s 197th Ulster appearance with the 30-year-old winger’s hopes firmly set on soon joining Rob Herring who marked his double century of caps last week against Benetton.

With Marty Moore out, Tom O’Toole is handed another start and this will be a tester for the 23-year-old against a Lions side with grunt in their front five.

Even so, if Ulster get things right at the lineout then they can create the platform to not only get their maul moving but also present opportunities for rising star Nathan Doak to make another significant impact on proceedings and help release the considerable threats of Gilroy, Ethan McIlroy, Will Addison and James Hume.

ULSTER: W Addison; C Gilroy, J Hume, S Moore, E McIlroy; B Burns, N Doak; A Warwick, R Herring, T O'Toole; A O'Connor, S Carter (capt); MRea, N Timoney, D McCann.

Replacements: B Roberts, E O'Sullivan, R Kane, K Treadwell, S Reidy, D Shanahan, M Lowry, B Moxham.

LIONS: D Roussouw; S Pienaar, M Rass, MB Odendaal (capt), S Maxwane; EW Viljoen, A Warner; S Sithole, J Visagie, C Sadie; R Schoeman, R Nothnagel; S Sangweni, V Tshituka, R Straeuli.

Replacements: PJ Botha, R Dreyer, A Ntlabakanye, W van der Sluys, E Tshituka, M van den Berg, F Zeilinga, W Simelane.

Referee: M Adamson (SRU).