Leinster, Ulster and Connacht name their teams for tomorrow night's PRO14 action
Ulster begin life without Les Kiss tomorrow night against the Southern Kings at Kingspan Stadium and new head coach Jonno Gibbes has handed flyhalf Johnny McPhillips his first senior start.
Alan O'Connor will captain the side for the first time from the second row.
Also in the backline, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy return from injury lay-offs to earn starting berths at outside centre and right wing respectively.
McPhillips will have experience either side of him in the form of scrumhalf John Cooney and inside centre Stuart McCloskey, while Rob Lyttle and Charles Piutau will join Gilroy in a potent back three combination.
Gibbes has opted for Andy Warwick, John Andrew and Wiehahn Herbst in the front row, with Kieran Treadwell partnering O'Connor at lock. The loose forwards are Matthew Rea, Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney.
Hooker Rob Herring has been released from the Ireland national camp and will provide cover on the bench, while Ireland U20 duo Matthew Dalton and Jonny Stewart are also included among the replacements.
Kyle McCall, Rodney Ah You and Chris Henry are the other forwards included in the match day squad, with Darren Cave and Louis Ludik providing further backline options.
Ulster: (15-9): C Piutau; C Gilroy, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; J McPhillips, J Cooney; (1-8): A Warwick, J Andrew, W Herbst, A O'Connor (captain), K Treadwell, M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney;
Replacements: (16-23): R Herring, K McCall, R Ah You, M Dalton, C Henry, J Stewart, D Cave, L Ludik.
Leinster's Michael Bent will make his 100th appearance for the province against Edinburgh at Myreside tomorrow evening.
Bent will start at tighthead prop on Friday, with Peter Dooley the starting loosehead.
Richardt Strauss completes the front row and will captain Leinster Rugby in tomorrow night’s game.
Will Connors will make his senior Leinster Rugby debut in the PRO14 contest, starting at openside flanker. He is joined by Josh Murphy, who made his senior debut back in November, and Max Deegan, to complete a youthful back row trio.
The second-row pairing of Ross Molony and Scott Fardy completes the Leinster pack.
Rory O’Loughlin, at outside centre, and Noel Reid, at inside centre, form Leinster’s midfield partnership for the game.
Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park will make up Leinster’s half-back pairing on Friday evening.
Dave Kearney will start at full-back for Leinster for the first time since February 2015, with Barry Daly on the left wing.
Fergus McFadden and Luke McGrath have both been released from Ireland camp for the Edinburgh match. McFadden will start on the right wing and McGrath has been named among the replacements.
On the bench, Ciarán Frawley could make his senior debut should he be called upon. Frawley featured for Leinster ‘A’ in all six of their British & Irish Cup pool games this season, playing at out-half, inside centre and full-back, helping the ‘A’ team, coached by Noel McNamara, to top their pool.
Adam Byrne, named among the replacements, could make his return from injury. Byrne last featured for Leinster in the PRO14 defeat away to Glasgow Warriors on November 3.
Leinster: (15-9) D Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Rory O'Loughlin, Noel Reid, Barry Daly, Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; (1-8)P Dooley, R Strauss (capt), M Bent, R Molony, S Fardy, J Murphy, W Connors, M Deegan
Replacements: (16-23) B Byrne, E Byrne, O Heffernan, Mick Kearney, P Timmins, L McGrath, C Frawley, A Byrne
Experienced lock Andrew Browne comes back into Kieran Keane’s Connacht line up for the Guinness PRO14 clash with in Ospreys in the Sportsground on Friday.
Also back from injury and in the starting XV are lock James Cannon and out-half Craig Ronaldson.
With Bundee Aki away on international duty, Tom Farrell and Eoin Griffin form the centre pairing. Likewise, with Kieran Marmion’s absence, Caolin Blade starts at scrum half.
Having recently announced that he will retire at the end of this season, John Muldoon will captain the side from his number 8 position. He will be joined in the back row by Eoghan Masterson at blindside and openside Naulia Dawai.
The back three is made up of Tiernan O’Halloran at full back, with Cian Kelleher and Matt Healy on the two wings.
During the next block of four games, Connacht take on three of their Conference rivals, including a trip to South Africa to take on the Cheetahs. Head Coach Kieran Keane is well aware of the importance of the upcoming fixtures and the need to get off to a good start against the Ospreys.
“We are up for this game, we know the importance of it”, he told reporters at the pre-game press conference.
“This is a really important block of games for us and will have a big bearing on our PRO14 season. We have a Quarter Final in the Challenge Cup to look forward to later in the season but there is a lot of rugby to play before that, so our focus is firmly on the league at the moment”.
Connacht: (15-9) T O’Halloran, C Kelleher, E Griffin, T Farrell, M Healy, C Ronaldson, C Blade; (1-8) D Coulson, T McCartney, C Carey, A Browne, J Cannon, E Masterson, N Dawai, J Muldoon (Capt).
Replacements: (16-23) S Delahunt, P McCabe, D Robertson McCoy, G Thornbury, J Connolly, J Mitchell, J Carty, PiAhki.