|European Champions Cup Pool 1|
|Venue: Kingspan Stadium Date: Friday, 13 October Kick-off: 19:45 BST|
|Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and BBC Radio Ulster MW and live scores on the BBC Sport website|
Ulster have made three changes to their line-up for the Champions Cup opener against Wasps as Iain Henderson captains the side for the first time.
Louis Ludik, Robbie Diack and Sean Reidy come into the team, with Tommy Bowe and injured duo Alan O’Connor and Chris Henry dropping out.
Henderson switches from blindside flanker to the second row.
Wasps are boosted by the return of captain Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes and Jimmy Gopperth,
Christian Wade and Dan Robson come into the backline, while Jake Cooper-Woolley and Tom Cruse are drafted into the front row.
Ulster half-backs Christian Lealiifano and John Cooney make their European debuts, along with flanker Jean Deysel.
Rory Best, Marcell Coetzee, Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne and Schalk van der Merwe all miss the game through injury.
Wasps have lost six of their last seven away matches against Irish opposition.
The English side have endured a difficult start to the season and are 10th in the Premiership table after two wins and four defeats from their opening six games, including a heavy 38-19 loss to Saracens last Sunday.
That defeat to the reigning European champions at Allianz Park has left Wasps Director of Rugby Dai Young with a five-day turnaround to prepare his players for the trip to Belfast, which he described as “far from ideal”.
Last year’s Premiership runners-up won a pre-season friendly against Ulster in Belfast but a 20-match unbeaten run on their home ground recently came to an end with two defeats.
Dwayne Peel, Ulster Assistant Coach:
“As a player and as a coach, it’s always special, be it the European Cup, the Heineken Cup or the Champions Cup, there’s always a special feeling to it and we’re very much looking forward to Friday night.”
“They [Wasps] have a few boys back from injury so we’re expecting a really stern challenge. They are a quality outfit, they’ve got pace and power so it’s going to be a tough game for us.”
[On Elliot Daly] “Obviously he’s a good player; he can run, he can pass and he’s got a massive boot as well. But we’re not concentrating only on him because they’ve got some pacey guys in their backline as well. So it’s a case of us believing and trusting in our system and hoping that will take care of them.”
Rob Herring, Ulster hooker:
“The first European game of the season, at home against a big European side – it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s a big challenge for us, like I said, but we’re all ready to kick-off our European campaign on a good note.”
Christian Lealiifano, Ulster fly-half:
“We’ve probably built some momentum heading in and that’s something that we’ll probably take into the game. It’s going to be a tough competition against Wasps but I think that just marks how big an occasion it is.”
Dai Young, Wasps Director of Rugby:
“The Kingspan Stadium is a great venue to play rugby, as I always found during my time coaching Cardiff, and our squad really enjoyed the atmosphere there in our pre-season game. It’s always ram-packed and the supporters really get behind the team.
“Ulster have a quality squad, with threats throughout, so you have to be at your best if you are to get a result there. I’m sure they will have ordered some rain in again as well – I don’t think I’ve ever been there on a Friday night when it hasn’t been bucketing down.
“We’ve parked the Premiership to one side for now and we’re really looking forward to getting stuck into a new tournament. We’ve dusted ourselves down and it’s a good time for us to switch to a new competition with the slate wiped clean.
“We go to Belfast with a smile on our faces, ready to enjoy the experience as that’s when we play our best rugby. If we can produce the standard of rugby we know we’re capable of, there’s no reason why we can’t get a result.
“All players want to play the best teams, in the best competitions, in the best grounds, and that’s what it will be on Friday night, so it should be a fantastic contest for fans to watch.”
Ulster: C Piutau; L Ludik, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Lealiifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst; K Treadwell, I Henderson (capt); R Diack, S Reidy, J Deysel.
Replacements: J Andrew, C Black , R Ah You, M Rea, C Ross, P Marshall, P Nelson, T Bowe.
Wasps: W Le Roux; C Wade, E Daly, B Macken, J Bassett; J Gopperth, D Robson; M Mullan, T Cruse, J Cooper-Woolley; J Launchbury (capt), W Rowlands; J Haskell, T Young, N Hughes.
Replacements: A Johnson, S McIntytre, M Moore, J Gaskell, J Willis, J Simpson, R Miller, M Watson.
12 October 2017 | 12:00 pm