Trio’s return is a huge boost for opening game
WASPS have been boosted by the return of England internationals Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes plus Kiwi fly-half Jimmy Gopperth for tonight’s European Cup opener in Belfast.
Christian Wade, Jake CooperWoolley, Dan Robson and Tom Cruse also return to the starting line-up after appearing from the bench during last Sunday’s defeat at Saracens.
This means that despite still being without ten players, including the likes of Tommy Taylor, Kyle Eastmond, Danny Cipriani and Matt Symons, the black-and-golds enter Europe with a substantially stronger XV than those fielded in recent weeks.
The bench also has a more robust look, since fit-again prop Simon McIntyre is joined by experienced forwards Marty Moore, Ashley Johnson and James Gaskell, plus last week’s starting half-backs Joe Simpson and Rob Miller as well as Marcus Watson.
Although Wasps have an excellent record against Ulster in this competition, winning six of the clubs’ seven meetings, the most recent of these was in 2001.
And with the two clubs having to date experienced contrasting domestic campaigns, it is no surprise that bookmakers see the hosts as six-point favourites to claim a round-one win.
Ulster hand a European debut to Wallaby fly-half Christian Lealifano, but all black-and-gold eyes will be looking further back, at their former star Charles Piutau who starts at full-back.
They will be captained from the second row by Iain Henderson – the man controversially selected for the British & Irish Lions ahead of Launchbury. Les Kiss’s team contains 11 other internationals, but, like Wasps, Ulster are also without a host of injured big names, including their skipper’s Lions’ teammates Rory Best and Jared Payne and Ireland’s Craig Gilroy.
Nathan Hughes runs with the ball during a Wasps training session this week