Ulster v Cheetahs (Fri)

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Experienced fly-half Lealiifano has signed a five-month contract with Ulster
Guinness Pro14: Ulster v Cheetahs
Date: Friday, 1 September Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast Kick-off: 19:35
Coverage: Live on BBC2 Northern Ireland & BBC Sport website

Australian fly-half Christian Lealiifano will make his Ulster debut in Friday’s opening Pro14 match at home to South African side the Cheetahs.

The 29-year-old, who signed a short-term deal with for the Belfast club, returned to action for the Brumbies in June, having recovered from leukaemia.

Other summer signings, Jean Deysel and John Cooney, will also make their competitive debuts in Ulster colours.

Winger Craig Gilroy has been ruled out because of a back injury.

Ulster said Gilroy’s stress fracture in his lower back could keep him out of action until late November.

Cheetahs coach Rory Duncan says team are ready for Friday’s Pro14 opener against Ulster

Henry captains Ulster in historic game

Chris Henry will captain the hosts from open-side flanker in Friday’s match which marks a new chapter in the history of the competition, with Southern Hemisphere sides joining for the first time.

In addition to the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs, the Southern Kings from Port Elizabeth will take part having also lost their Super Rugby status.

Former Connacht player Cooney and Lealiifano will form what Ulster hope will prove an exciting new half-back partnership.

Elsewhere in the backs there are familiar faces, with Stuart McCloskey and Tommy Bowe linking up at centre and Louis Ludik, Andrew Trimble and Charles Piutau forming an experienced back three.

Back-row forward Matthew Rea could earn his first Ulster cap, as he is included in the replacements.

Makazole Mapimpi scored 11 Super Rugby tries for the Southern Kings last season

Cheetahs include highly-rated wing Mapimpi

The Cheetahs are without regular captain Francois Venter because of his involvement with the Springboks in the Rugby Championship while another South African international flanker Oupa Mohoje is also missing because of a rib injury.

However, the Cheetahs do include talented winger Makazole Mapimpi, who moved from the Kings after scoring 11 tries in last year’s Super Rugby competition.

South African A international Sergeal Petersen will start at full-back while South African Sevens player Rosko Specman is named at wing.

Namibian prop Johan Coetzee is named in a pack which also includes captain Niell Jordaan.

The side has three changes from last weekend’s 30-24 Currie Cup win over the Golden Lions.

Shaun Venter and Clayton Blommetjies replace Tian Meyer and Robbie Petzer at half-back with Henco Venter taking over from Gerhard Olivier in the back row.

Ulster: C Piutau; A Trimble, T Bowe, S McCloskey, L Ludik, C Lealiifano, J Cooney; K McCall, R Herring, W Herbst, R Diack, A O’Connor, J Deysel, C Henry (capt), M Coetzee.

Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, R Ah You, M Rea, S Reidy, D Shanahan, P Nelson, D Cave.

Cheetahs: S Petersen; R Specman, W Small-Smith, A Mgijima, M Mapimpi; C Blommetjies, S Venter; C Marais, J du Toit, J Coetzee; J Basson, R Hugo; P Schoeman, H Venter, N Jordaan (capt).

Replacements: T van Jaarsveld, O Nche, T Botha, R Bernardo, G Oliver, T Meyer, C Afrika, R Benjamin.

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