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Published: 16:00 | 18/10/17

Van der Merwe set for Ulster debut

Schalk van der Merwe is set to make his Ulster debut in Sunday's Champions Cup game against La Rochelle at Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

South African prop van der Merwe has yet to play for the Irish province since his summer move from Super Rugby's Southern Kings, after undergoing shoulder surgery in June.

Chris Henry is available after being ruled out of Friday's 19-9 Pool One opener win over Wasps at the Kingspan Stadium with a throat problem.

Alan O'Connor will return to the pack after missing the win over Wasps with concussion, but Ireland skipper Rory Best has still not recovered from a hamstring injury.

However, Best will travel with the squad to France to lend support and advice.

"It's a big match and to have him in and around in the environment would be good," head coach Jono Gibbes said.

"I'm not sure how that's going to pan out but I think if he was the water carrier it would be good to have him around the guys for sure.

"From my experience last season in France when we analysed them with Clermont individually they are probably one of the most skilful, sort of X factor, teams in France. La Rochelle seem to have 1-15 who can do all sorts of things. So the threat is pretty real."

Jared Payne is still out as the Ulster medical team continue to evaluate his condition following the severe migraines that ended his Lions' tour of New Zealand a week early.

Ulster have won six of their seven matches this season, with their only defeat coming at Zebre on 30 September, but La Rochelle are also flying, with five wins in seven Top 14 matches this season and a 34-27 Champions Cup bonus point win at Harlequins on Saturday.

The second round of the European Rugby Champions Cup takes place this weekend, and you can watch the best of the action on BT Sport 2 on the eir Sport package. On Friday, 20 October, Pro 14 pacesetters Scarlets meet Premiership side Bath at Pairc y Scarlets on BT Sport 2 [kick off 7.45pm]. On Saturday, 21 October, Top 14 champions Clermont host Northampton [kick-off 3.15pm], while Saracens meet Ospreys later on Saturday evening [kick-off 7.45pm]. On Sunday, 22 October, Wasps face Harlequins in an all-Premiership fixture [kick off 7.45pm].

Image: Inpho/ Kelvin Boyes

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