PRO14 RUGBY: Jonno Gibbes keeps faith in his backline for Ospreys encounter

Sean Reidy during Captain's Run held at Kingspan Stadium
Sean Reidy during Captain's Run held at Kingspan Stadium

Head coach Jono Gibbes is able to start with the same exciting backline which unlocked Edinburgh with aplomb last weekend for Friday night’s visit of The Ospreys.

Ulster face the Welsh side in another crunch Guinness PRO14 game at Kingspan Stadium (7:35pm).

The Irish Province kept their hopes - slim as they may be - alive of making the PRO14 final series with a bonus point win over Edinburgh in Murrayfield Stadium last week.

While the set piece was seen as instrumental in the victory, it was the backline’s scintillating display which scored three tries in the front 25 minutes which set Ulster up for the eventual bonus point 32-20 win.

Gibbes is able to retrain the same seven players, with winger Louis Ludik recovering from a back injury he sustained last week.

Up front Ulster have made four changes, one enforced.

With Wiehahn Herbst and Rodney Ah You both ruled out with injury, Ross Kane is handed a start at tighthead prop.

Tom O’Toole is named on the bench having made his starting debut last week.

While the Banbridge club tighthead impressed around the pitch, he struggled at scrumtime and was replaced by Ah You.

On the other side of the front row, Callum Black is given the start with Warwick dropping to the bench.

Kieran Treadwell will start in the second row - Alan O’Connor again on the bench - with Matt Dalton who started last week not included in the matchday 23.

The final change comes in the backrow where Sean Reidy will start.

Wales and British and Irish Lions’ Alun Wyn Jones switches from lock to blind-side flanker as he leads Ospreys on his 150th appearance for the Welsh region.

Owen Watkin comes in at centre and Adam Beard takes over at lock from Jones as Guy Mercer drops to the bench.

Jones’ positional switch comes as Ospreys continue to cover injuries and Justin Tipuric’s involvement with Wales Sevens at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Back-rowers Dan Lydiate, Olly Cracknell, Will Jones and Rob McCusker are sidelined.

Ospreys retain hopes of qualifying for the 2018-19 Champions Cup and have slim hopes of a PRO14 play-off spot as they lie fifth in Conference A after winning their last four games in the competition.

Ospreys interim head coach Allen Clarke said: “We’ve had some really positive results and performances at the Liberty Stadium in recent weeks that have put us in a position where we are firmly in control of our own destiny.

“The challenge for us now is to keep that going with three difficult away games coming up to end the regular season but we know the reward that is there for us potentially.”

For Ulster is it all about winning in terms of both PRO14 final series and European play-off qualification.

Catching Edinburgh - who are eight points ahead with two games left - may end up beyond Ulster, but they have to finish in fourth place to be sure of a Euro play-off.

They are currently a point ahead of Benetton in Conference B - but it is crucial they also finish with more points than Ospreys, as they could be their potential opponents in the play-off. Home advantage goes to the side with the highest points.

Ulster: C Piutau, L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, J McPhillips, J Cooney; C Black, R Best (Capt), R Kane, K Treadwell, I Henderson, M Rea, J Deysel, S Reidy.

Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, T O’Toole, A O’Connor, N Timoney, D Shanahan, L Marshall, T Bowe.

Ospreys: Dan Evans; Jeff Hassler, Kieron Fonotia, Owen Watkin, Hanno Dirksen, Dan Biggar, Tom Habberfield; Nicky Smith, Scott Otten, Dmitri Arhip, Bradley Davies, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Sam Cross, James King.

Replacements: Ifan Phillips, Rhodri Jones, Ma’afu Fia, Lloyd Ashley, Guy Mercer, Matthew Aubrey, Sam Davies, James Hook.