Vermeulen to make Ulster debut in Clermont

South African World Cup winner and Ulster’s latest signing, Duane Vermeulen has been named in the starting XV for the province’s Heineken Champions Cup opener away to ASM Clermont Auvergne on Saturday evening (kick-off 6.30pm local, 5.30pm UK / Irish time, Stade Marcel-Michelin).

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Saturday’s game is the first of back-to-back Heineken Champions Cup weekends, with Ulster welcoming Northampton Saints to Kingspan Stadium next Friday 17 December. A limited number of tickets are still available at ulster.rugby/buytickets.

The Springbok star is among five changes to the team that faced Ospreys last weekend. The front row sees changes at loosehead and hooker, with Andrew Warwick and Rob Herring coming in to start alongside tighthead prop Tom O’Toole. Alan O’Connor will skipper the Ulster side, with Kieran Treadwell joining him in the second row. Marcus Rea gets the nod at blindside flanker, with Nick Timoney retained at openside and Vermeulen packing down in the Number Eight jersey.

Behind the pack, Ireland international James Hume is the sole change to the Ulster backline. John Cooney and Billy Burns retain their half-back partnership, with outside centre Hume coming in to partner Stuart McCloskey in midfield. Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune and Mike Lowry make up a dynamic looking back three.

The Ulster coaching group has opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, with back-row Sean Reidy in line to make his 150th appearance if called upon. John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Ross Kane, Sam Carter and Greg Jones are the other forwards options, with Nathan Doak and Stewart Moore providing the backline reinforcements.

Ulster team to play ASM Clermont Auvergne, Heineken Champions Cup Round 1, Saturday 11 December at Stade Marcel-Michelin, kick-off 6.30pm local, 5.30pm UK / Irish time, live on BT Sport:

(15-9) Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;

(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor (Capt.), Kieran Treadwell, Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen;

Replacements: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Ross Kane, Sam Carter, Greg Jones, Sean Reidy, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore.