International lock Iain Henderson has returned from injury at least six weeks earlier than predicted to make his 100th competitive appearance for Ulster as they face Leicester Tigers in their vital European Champions Cup pool four tie at Welford Road on Saturday.
Speculation had mounted this week that the British Lions second row could be back sooner than expected following a hand operation after he was named in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad for the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations Championship. It had been predicted it would be the end of the Championship before he would return to his club.
Henderson, who is the only change to the side which defeated Racing 92 in Belfast last weekend, is a huge boost to Dan McFarland’s side who are looking to rubber-stamp their place in the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time since 2014.
Billy Burns has receoved from a calf injury to start again at outhalf, but Dave Shanahan retains the starting scrumhalf jersey in spite of John Cooney’s return having missed last week’s game with a back issue. Cooney is named on the bench.
Ulster: L Ludik; R Baloucoune, W Addison, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, D Shanahan; E O’Sullivan, R Best (captain), M Moore, I Henderson, K Treadwell, S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee;
Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, R Kane, A O’Connor, N Timoney, J Cooney, M Lowry, D Cave.