Ireland’s summer debutant John Cooney will start his third successive game when Ulster tackle a star-studded Scarlets outfit on an emotional night at Ravenhilll (kick-off, 7.35pm).
The match is being played five years to the day since former Ulster and Ireland Wolfhounds centre Nevin Spence died in a tragic farming accident along with his father Noel and brother Graham and there will be a minute silence before kick-off.
Scrum-half Cooney, who spent many a match-day sitting on a cold bench at Leinster and Connacht, continues his partnership with Wallaby Christian Lealiifano and hoping to improve further following a man-of-the-match performance against Benetton last week. Cooney will have fellow Ireland tourist Luke Marshall back in midfield where he will partner Stuart McCloskey in the only change behind the scrum, while flanker Chris Henry returns to lead the side with loose-head Kyle McCall and lock Alan O’Connor also starting.
Cooney, remembers Spence fondly, having become close friends while playing together at age-group level. “I used to room with Nevin a good bit when playing at Ireland U18, U19, and U20 levels,” said Cooney. “It was heartbreaking at the time and it would be nice to get a big performance for him,” said Cooney who has been hugely impressed by new backs’ coach Dwayne Peel.
“His input has been huge and it’s such a good thing to have him,” explained Cooney. “He’s knows exactly what I’m meant to do, and has improved parts of my game that’ll make a difference. I’m really enjoying it.”
Meanwhile, Scarlets skipper and hooker Ken Owens makes his first appearance of the season along with fellow Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny with centre Jonathan Davies on the bench.
L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Lealiifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst, K Treadwell, A O’Connor, C Henry (capt), S Reidy, J Deysel.
J Andrew, A Warwick, R Ah You, R Diack, M Rea, P Marshall, P Nelson, T Bowe.
L Halfpenny; J McNicholl, H Parkes, S Williams, S Evans, R Patchell, G Davies; R Evans, K Owens (capt), S Lee, J Ball, T Beirne, A Shingler, W Boyde, J Barclay Replacements: R Elias, W Jones, W Kruger, D Bulbring, J Macleod, J Evans, R Jones, J Davies.
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