Halaholo is reunited in midfield with Rey Lee-Lo, in a backline that includes six internationals.
Homegrown duo Jarrod Evans and Lloyd Williams combine at half back, while Matthew Morgan and Hallam Amos line-up in the back three alongside Josh Adams, who has been in scintillating form since joining the region, with seven tries in eight outings.
He partners Seb Davies in the second row, while academy graduates Corey Domachowski and Liam Belcher are included in the front row with Dmitri Arhip.
Shane Lewis-Hughes and James Botham, who both impressed in the victory over Ospreys on the final day of the 2019/20 campaign, are rewarded with starting spots, as the experienced Josh Turnbull is handed the number eight jersey.
John Mulvihill insists he’s picked the side based on form and merit but is expecting a tough task in Parma.
“I’m hopeful that we can take the form that we had against Ospreys into game one and certainly the selection of the team rewards the boys that played well that day,” said the head coach.
““We need to pick on form if we want to be consistent as a group. The coaches need to show consistency in picking players that put their hands up for selection.
“We’re all excited to get out there and to kick off the new season. We gained a lot from the two derbies we played in August, and the boys have been working hard on the training ground, so we want to see that come into fruition on Friday.
“We all know how tough it can be to visit Italy, and you need to travel there with the correct game-plan and mindset.
“Zebre are a team that can cause teams problems on their day, but we’re fully confident in our group. Preparations have been good, the boys have been sharp and focused and we’re relishing the challenge ahead. We want to build early momentum and we have an opportunity to do that in Parma.
“There will be a small home crowd out there, which is fantastic and we’re really looking forward to playing in front of some spectators after everything that’s happened over the last few months. It should be lively and entertaining affair.”
Five academy products are included on the bench, including lock Ben Murphy and Welsh internationals Rhys Carré and Dillon Lewis.
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Josh Adams, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Hallam Amos; Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Cory Hill (capt.), Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Josh Turnbull
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Rhys Carré, Dillon Lewis, Ben Murphy, Olly Robinson, Lewis Jones, Jason Tovey, Garyn Smith
The following players were not considered for selection due to injury:
Ellis Jenkins (Knee)
Tomos Williams (Shoulder)
Rhys Gill (Bicep)
Jason Harries (Knee)
Owen Lane (Shoulder)
Mason Grady (Ankle)
Keiron Assiratti (Ankle)
Will Boyde (Calf)
Josh Navidi (Concussion)
Dan McFarland extends stay with Ulster for a further two years
Ulster Rugby Head Coach, Dan McFarland, has renewed his commitment to the province by signing a new two-year contract extension.
Since joining the club in August 2018, Ulster has regularly competed at the knock-out stages of both the Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup, including at the most recent Guinness PRO14 final – a first for the province in seven years.
Of his contract renewal, Dan McFarland, said:
“I’m delighted to be signing again with Ulster. I have thoroughly enjoyed the last two and a half years working and learning with some really good people, and I’m looking forward to continuing to help drive on our improvement as a group and as individuals.
“As a group, we are extremely ambitious in our aim to be consistently competing for championships. With exciting young talent continuing to emerge out of our Academy system, joining forces with the proven talent within our squad – many of whom have been recently recognised at international level – I look forward to what the weeks and months ahead hold as we take on our next challenges in the domestic league and in Europe this season.”
Ulster Rugby CEO, Jonny Petrie, added:
“I’m extremely pleased to see Dan extend his commitment to Ulster Rugby, giving us the opportunity to continue to build on the fantastic work that he has done in his time here so far.
“It is plain to see, both on and off the field of play, the ethos that he has instilled in the group, and that is being borne out both in our performances and our results – a team of which the people of Ulster can be rightly and fiercely proud.
“I’m looking forward to working with Dan in the coming years, to see where we can take this. It’s an exciting prospect.”
Ulster & Leinster announce teams for huge Inter-Pro Clash
The team sees six changes to the side that defeated Munster at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday. Michael Lowry comes in to start at full-back and is joined on the wings by Matt Faddes and last weekend’s Player-of-the-Match, Ethan McIlroy. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield duo, and in the half-backs, John Cooney will partner Billy Burns.
Andrew Warwick and Marty Moore are named at loosehead and tighthead prop, with Rob Herring completing the front row at hooker. Alan O’Connor comes in to pair with captain Sam Carter in the second row. Greg Jones, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee make up the starting back row forwards.
John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Nick Timoney will provide forward reinforcements off the bench. David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham will offer back line cover.
Ulster team to play Leinster Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 11, Friday 8 January at the RDS Arena (kick-off 7.35pm, live on Premier Sports / eir Sport):
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney.
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Capt.), Greg Jones, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.
The Leinster Rugby team, as sponsored by Bank of Ireland, to face Ulster Rugby in the RDS Arena in Round 11 of the Guinness PRO14 has been announced by Leo Cullen (KO 7.35pm live on eir Sport and RTÉ Radio).
Johnny Sexton will captain the team as a number of players return from injury for the top of Conference A clash.
Hugo Keenan is selected at full back with Jordan Larmour back after a shoulder injury to start on the right wing and Dave Kearney selected on the left.
Robbie Henshaw starts in the inside centre jersey with Ross Byrne starting outside him in the number 13 jersey for the first time in his Leinster senior career.
In the half-backs, Jamison Gibson-Park is joined by captain Johnny Sexton.
Cian Healy starts at loosehead prop with Andrew Porter at tighthead, while Seán Cronin makes his first start of the season at hooker after recovering from a thumb injury.
Former Australian international Scott Fardy is joined by James Ryan in the second row while, in the back row, fit-again Rhys Ruddock starts with Josh van der Flier at openside and Caelan Doris at number eight.
On the bench, Harry Byrne returns from a back injury picked up in the warm-up before the Northampton Saints game.
Team News from Ulster Rugby & Leinster Rugby
Ulster to welcome 1,000 fans for Scarlets clash
Ulster Rugby last night announced that 1,000 supporters will be welcomed to the Kingspan Stadium this weekend. Statement from Ulster Rugby below:
The Ulster Men have played behind closed doors since the opening game of the season against Benetton Rugby when the club successfully trialled the safe return of spectators following extensive consultation with the IRFU, Belfast City Council and the Northern Ireland Executive.
All 500 pairs of tickets will be made available to #TogetherUlster Members only via an online ballot process. Members who applied for tickets to the Benetton match but missed out due to limited availability will receive priority in the ballot.
Sunday night’s match will feature a mix of seating and terracing in operation across all four stands and the East Terrace. Tickets are again priced at £20 each, allocated in groups of two with two-metre physical distancing factored in.
The online ballot will be open for 24 hours from 1pm on Tuesday 17 November on the Ulster Rugby Ticket Account Manager, and account holders can apply for one pair of tickets per every Adult #TogetherUlster Membership held. All successful applicants will be notified on Wednesday evening once the ballot has closed and tickets have been allocated. Members will then have until 1pm on Thursday 19 November to confirm their ticket purchase and process payment.