British and Irish Lion hooker, Rory Best, will make his first appearance with Ulster this season when he is a likely starter against Benetton Treviso in Friday night’s PRO12 fixture at Ravenhill.
Rested at the start of the season under the Irish Player Management Programme after a busy summer in Australia where he captained the Lions during their Test winning tour, Best will be keen to get his first hit-out ahead of what is a meaty set of fixtures.
The visit of Treviso is followed by a trip to the in-form Ospreys in Swansea and then the Heineken Cup gets underway with Leicester Tigers visiting Ravenhill followed by a stern French examination in Montpellier.
With those games coming up Ulster are glad to have the likes of Best returning.
Fellow summer tourist ‘down under’, Tommy Bowe was also expected to start on Friday night for Ulster although the management are waiting until Thursday morning before making a final decision.
A fit again Bowe’s return to the side could see Ulster juggle with their backline.
Bowe would come in to replace David McIlwaine on one flank. Michael Allen is almost certain to get another start after an impressive showing last week.
It could see Craig Gilroy deployed at fullback which would allow the management to take a look at Jared Payne in the 13 shirt, where he played in the pre-season friendly against Leinster.
The other player likely to return is Stuart Olding, although like Bowe a final decision was being made tomorrow morning.
The young back - who toured with Ireland in the summer - could see a return to playing from the bench as Ulster continue to look at their options.
There is added interest in this weekend’s game, given that Ulster and Treviso are drawn in Pool Five of the Heineken Cup.
They are due to meet in the back-to-back games in December.
Treviso, like Ulster lost their opening two games, but the Italians caused a bit of an upset last weekend when they defeated Munster.
Ulster assistant coach, Neil Doak, said that this week’s fixture would have no bearing on what happened in the Heineken.
“We want to continue to build momentum in the PRO12. We want to build more confidence.
“There is no doubt beating Munster will have given Treviso huge confidence coming here.
“They are a quality outfit with a lot of really good players and they have given us a good examination in the past.
“The Italian teams are improving every season and we are under no illusions about the task we face.
“But the lads are more upbeat this week after that win in Connacht last week.”