IRELAND flanker Stephen Ferris is set to play his first game of rugby since Ulster’s defeat in the Heineken Cup final against Leinster.
Mark Anscombe’s side travel to Swansea for a clash with defending RaboDirect Pro12 champions the Ospreys on Saturday evening.
The abrasive back rower picked up a calf strain at Twickenham which ruled him out of Ireland’s three test summer tour to New Zealand.
Ferris also went under the knife during the close season to repair a thumb problem and now he’s ready to get back into action.
Winger Andrew Trimble also comes into the squad for the first time this season after he missed the pre season games and the league win over Glasgow due to the national management programme.
Trimble started the second test in New Zealand and came on as a replacement in the final game.
With a lack of rugby Anscombe is likely to bench both and bring them back into the fold gradually as he did with Tom Court and Darren Cave last week both of whom are pushing to start.
Out half Paddy Jackson is expected to start despite limping off after 10 minutes against Glasgow due to a tight calf while loose forward Nick Williams has recovered from a dead leg.
Anscombe’s biggest selection headache will come at scrum half; whether he keeps faith with Michael Heaney or goes with Paul Marshall’s experience after his 20 minute cameo against Glasgow.
Rory Best and Chris Henry are still unavailable because of the IRFUs player management scheme but are expected to make a return in the coming weeks.
Roger Wilson is still side lined with a hamstring problem while Paddy Wallace has a shoulder injury. Both aren’t expected to see any action before October.
Full back Adam DArcy, centre Nevin Spence and flanker Ali Birch are all making good progress but none of the trio are considered fit enough to make the trip to Swansea.
Ulster will once again have to rely on their young guns but assistant coach Jonny Bell feels they will rise to the challenge just as they did in pre season and against Glasgow in the league opener.
“The Academy should be very proud of themselves with the work they’ve done with the young guys,” said Bell
“It shows that there is talent out there. Our players have done exceptionally well and all credit to Mark and Brian McLaughlin last year in filtering young guys through and giving them the opportunity.
“There’s nothing worse for a young guy to work really hard and then see a closed door at the end of the pathway.
“He’s got to see opportunities and Mark has worked incredibly hard to give these guys opportunities and build a competitive environment for the whole squad and make sure that everyone earns the right to wear the jersey.
“That’s central to what makes people competitive and they know they’ve got to fight to be involved.
“The young guys have stepped up to the mark and its about development for them and exposure to teams at the top level.
“You only get better when you’re playing at that level consistently and certainly the future is very encouraging.”
ULSTER SQUAD FORWARDS (16)
R Herring, N Annett, N Brady, A Macklin, D Fitzpatrick, C Black, T Court, J Afoa, L Stevenson, N McComb, J Muller, M McComish, S Ferris, R Diack, S Doyle, N Williams
ULSTER SQUAD BACKS (12)
P Marshall, M Heaney, N OConnor, P Jackson, L Marshall, C Farrell, D Cave, M Allen, C Gilroy, A Trimble, P Nelson, J Payne