Preview: Ulster v Gloucester

Lesley Vainikolo will start his first game since the end of September when he returns to the wing for Gloucester’s Heineken Cup clash with Ulster at Ravenhill on Friday.

The giant winger, who scored five tries on his Guinness Premiership debut against Leeds, has recovered from a muscle problem in his neck and will line up in a back three alongside James Simpson-Daniel and full-back Iain Balshaw.

“The Heineken Cup is one of the reasons I am at Gloucester – I cannot wait for it,” said Vainikolo.

“I am feeling good – the medics have done their stuff – and now I just want to get back onto the field and get the ball in my hands.

“I have missed not being around the boys but the atmosphere is great and we are looking forward to the game.

“The Heineken Cup is a massive competition, Ravenhill has a fantastic reputation and it will be a huge experience.”

Vainikolo returned to action with 25 minutes from the bench against London Wasps in the team’s 26-29 EDF Energy Cup defeat last weekend.

There is another change in the Cherry and White’s back-line with Mike Tindall returning to the centre alongside Anthony Allen following soreness in his leg.

The half-back combination of Rory Lawson and Ryan Lamb remains intact, while Olly Morgan moves to the bench.

Ryan’s forward pack also remains unchanged from the one that took on Wasps, which means Peter Buxton will skipper the side from the second row alongside Alex Brown.

Loosehead prop Nick Wood, hooker Olivier Azam and tighthead Carlos Nieto form the front row, while Alasdair Strokosch, Akapusi Qera and Luke Narraway form the back row.

Italy skipper Marco Bortolami, who missed the game at Adams Park with a shoulder injury, returns to the matchday-22.

“We are selecting from a position of strength and although the turn-around in terms of preparation time is short, we are comfortable where we are,” said Gloucester coach Dean Ryan.

“Some of the rugby we played against Wasps was some of the best we have played for a long time and even though we lost, we are not allowing ourselves to be too disappointed because of the level of our performance in many areas.

“We stacked up physically and were a genuine threat when in possession. We obviously didn’t close the game out which was disappointing but we are not going to beat ourselves up about it because of the good things we did.

“We are relishing this contest – it is where the club wants to be in the long-term and why we finished top of the Premiership last season. It is up to us now to carry it forward.”

Alongside Bortolami, Gloucester’s other forward replacements are hooker Andy Titterrell, prop Christian Califano and number eight Gareth Delve.

In the backs, scrum-half Mike Prendergast, utility back Chris Paterson and Morgan are Ryan’s three-quarter options on the bench.

Meanwhile, Ulster coach Mark McCall has named a side that sees three personnel changes and one positional from the side that travelled to Glasgow last weekend.

With Stephen Ferris confirmed as unavailable for selection for the next 4-6 weeks following a flare-up of a knee injury, there’s a new-look back-row.

Roger Wilson will regain the number eight shirt while Neil Best will move to the openside flank with versatile lock Matt McCullough named on the blind side.

Kieron Dawson’s leg injury sustained last week against Glasgow, when he was stretchered off the Firhill pitch, is not as serious as initially feared, and he is named on the bench as back-row cover.

In the battle of the second rows, Ryan Caldwell is named on the bench with Italian lock Carlo Del Fava starting alongside former Wallaby Justin Harrison while the front row of Justin Fitzpatrick, Rory Best and Bryan Young remains unchanged.

McCall has also named an unchanged back-line as Ulster look to start their Heineken Cup campaign wi

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