Ulster to hand European debut to young prop Kyle McCall

Kyle McCall of Ulster is tackled by Boris Stankovich and Cory Hill of NGt Dragons
Kyle McCall of Ulster is tackled by Boris Stankovich and Cory Hill of NGt Dragons

Ulster are to put their faith in young prop Kyle McCall by handing him his first European start on Saturday in France against Oyonnax.

McCall made his first competitive start for Ulster last weekend in the Guinness PRO12 win in Newport over Dragons.

It was only his fifth cap for the Irish Province in four seasons.

McCall produced a quality performance last Sunday and impressed new director of rugby Les Kiss, who described him as being one of ‘our best’ on the day.

Luke Marshall is also expected to be named on the starting team, partnering Darren Cave in the midfield having returned a little earlier than expected after an operation to a thumb.

The Irish international is preferred to Stuart McCloskey in the 12 role with the latter not being involved at all.

Young scrumhalf, David Shanahan is expected to be named on the bench when the team is announced at lunchtime today with Paul Marshall being unavailable.

Ulster skipper Rory Best and South African scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar are set to start having come off the bench last week on their return from Rugby World Cup duty.

Kiss had signalled his intentions already at giving everyone a fresh start in the squad and although his team selection last weekend considered several factors including the injury profile, the need to rotate given the hectic schedule the side currently fact as well as giving young players the opportunity he was well impressed with three youngsters last weekend.

“It was brilliant for us to give a few young players game time. Some good Ulstermen there and they put their hands up.

“I thought McCall was close to one of our best really. His work around the pitch was great but it was effective work.

“He carried the ball strongly and defensively, he was just energetic got his tackles and was on his feet quickly delivered really really good game.”

Meanwhile, Oyonnax sacked their head coach, Olivier Azam, on Thursday.

Azam only arrived in the offseason following the departure of Christophe Urios who had spent eight years with the club, guiding them from the French second tier all the way to Europe’s elite competition.

However, following six defeats in his opening eight games in charge — including a 38-3 hammering at the hands of La Rochelle last weekend — the former Lyon forwards coach has been shown the door.

That result left them second from bottom of the Top 14 and it is understood club president Thierry Emin took the decision on Thursday morning to end the contract.