The Ulster Rugby starting XV has been announced for Saturday's Champions Cup Round 5 clash against La Rochelle (Kingspan Stadium, 1.00pm).

Craig Gilroy and Louis Ludik return to the backline after missing the PRO14 interprovincial derby versus Leinster last weekend, while John Cooney returns to start at scrum-half following a replacement appearance in the RDS Arena.

Christian Lealiifano, who will be playing in his last home match for Ulster before returning to the Brumbies later this month, will partner Cooney at half back.

Ludik joins Stuart McCloskey in midfield, while Gilroy, Jacob Stockdale and Charles Piutau, who leads the way for metres made in this year's tournament (454), will make up the back three.

Alan O'Connor is re-instated in the second row, where he is paired with Iain Henderson. Abbey Insurance Academy player Nick Timoney will pack down at number 8, with Matty Rea and Sean Reidy named as the other loose forwards.

Rory Best will again lead the side and he will combine with Callum Black and Rodney Ah You in the front row.

Johnny McPhillips could make his European debut after being included among the replacements. He is joined on the bench by Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Chris Henry, Dave Shanahan and Darren Cave.

Kane, who was initially named in the Ulster A team for this evening's British & Irish Cup tie, has been called up to the senior squad as Wiehahn Herbst is ruled out due to a slight calf issue.

The match will be televised by Sky Sports, while the game will also be covered live by BBC Radio Ulster and RTE Radio.

Ulster Rugby team to play La Rochelle, Champions Cup, Saturday 13th January, Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 1.00pm:
(15-9):
 C Piutau; C Gilroy, L Ludik, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; C Lealiifano, J Cooney;
(1-8): C Black, R Best (captain), R Ah You, A O'Connor, I Henderson, M Rea, S Reidy, N Timoney;
Replacements (16-23): R Herring, K McCall, R Kane, K Treadwell, C Henry, D Shanahan, J McPhillips, D Cave.

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