Stockdale returns to full-back for Ulster opener

Ireland star Jacob Stockdale played position in Ulster's run to last month’s PRO14 final but was switched to left wing for Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final
Stockdale returns to full-back for Ulster opener

Ulster's Jacob Stockdale is tackled by Chris Dean of Edinburgh in the Guinness PRO14 Semi-Final, BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland

Jacob Stockdale will return to full-back for Ulster’s Guinness PRO14 season opener against Benetton in Belfast on Friday (8:15pm). 

The Ireland star had played there throughout Dan McFarland’s 2019-20 restart and Ulster’s run to last month’s PRO14 final but was switched to his more familiar role on the left-wing for the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at Toulouse as Michael Lowry grabbed the number 15 jersey. 

With Billy Burns injuring a calf in that season-ending European defeat and new signing Ian Madigan missing from the matchday squad despite not being mentioned in the Ulster squad injury update earlier in the week, Lowry is now required at fly-half in partnership with scrum-half John Cooney and Stockdale will return to full-back in a back three alongside wings Rob Lyttle and Craig Gilroy.

With inside centre Stuart McCloskey also missing due to an elbow injury sustained against Toulouse, Stewart Moore is set to make his first senior start for Ulster in a midfield pairing with James Hume in midfield.

There is an unchanged front row but behind them Australian Sam Carter replaces Alan O’Connor at lock to partner captain Iain Henderson and the back row will see Matty Rea in at blindside as Sean Reidy shifts to the openside while Marcell Coetzee will return at No.8 having been named Supporters Club Player of the Year and Heineken Rugby Ulster Rugby personality of the year earlier in the week.

Former Munster half-backs Alby Mathewson and Bill Johnston provide bench cover at nine and 10 while back-row replacement David McCann could be in line for a senior debut in the week he was crowned Academy Player of the Year.

The match will see Ulster welcome 600 supporters to the 18,211-capacity Kingspan Stadium with local government approval as a trial for the safe return of spectators. The IRFU earlier in the day confirmed the PCR testing of players and staff at Ulster, Leinster, Connacht and Munster had produced zero positive results ahead of this weekend’s PRO14 fixtures.

ULSTER: J Stockdale; C Gilroy, J Hume, S Moore, R Lyttle; M Lowry, J Cooney; J McGrath, R Herring, M Moore; S Carter, I Henderson - captain; M Rea, S Reidy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: A McBurney, E O'Sullivan, G Milasinovich, D O'Connor, D McCann, A Mathewson, B Johnston, L Ludik.

BENETTON: J Hayward; R Tavuyara, I Brex, M Zanon, M Ioane; P Garbisi, D Duvenage - captain; C Traore, H Faiva, M Riccioni; M Lazzaroni, F Ruzza; S Negri, A Steyn, T Halafihi.

Replacements: G Lucchesi, N Quaglio, S Ferrari, N Cannone, E Snyman, G Pettinelli, C Braley, E Padovani.

Referee: Adam Jones (WRU)

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