IRISH internationals Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry have been released to play for their Province on Friday - but it will not be for the senior Ulster side on Friday night’shuge RaboDirect PRO12 encounter with Munster at Ravenhill).
The experienced forwards will get their first taste of competitive action in the ‘A’ Inter-Provincial for Ulster Ravens against Munster ‘A’ at Deramore Park, Belfast Harlequins.
It had been widely thought the Irish duo would be reintroduced to the PRO12 side from the bench just as Tom Court, Andrew Trimble, Declan Fitzpatrick and Stephen Ferris had been in recent weeks.
Given that Henry and Tuohy have only returned to the training paddock in recent weeks, Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe, said he felt it was better to give them some game time via the Ravens.
Had that option not been available, it may have resulted in a different approach although Anscombe has continually stuck by his word on giving players selection based on performance and not who they are.
There are however, seven changes to the side which defeated Ospreys in Swansea last weekend for the eagerly anticipated clash with Ulster’s arch rivals Munster.
Stephen Ferris will have the honour of leading the side out at Ravenhill tonight as he earns his 100th cap, having come off the bench last weekend.
Fellow Irish international, Andrew Trimble, is also elevated from the bench displacing Craig Gilroy in the starting XV.
It was the replacements who turned Ulster’s fortunes last week against Ospreys, the team turning over a 13-3 deficit to take a rare away triumph in Liberty Stadium and Wales 13-16.
There is no surprise, then, that the front row which ended the game last week is given the start, John Afoa, Nigel Brady and Tom Court packing down against Munster.
And there is also no surprise that Anscombe has opted for a new halfback starting partnership in Paul Marshall and Paddy Jackson - coming in for Niall O’Connor and Michael Heaney.
Heaney is retained on the bench for Ulster, but O’Connor starts for the Ravens and with no recognisable replacement outhalf on the bench for the senior game, Jackson will be hoping to have a better start to the season than he did a fortnight ago against Glasgow, limping out after just nine minutes.
Ulster will probably be hoping he lasts a bit longer as well, with the Luke Marshall or Jared Payne, probably being considered as outhalf replacement options.
Mike McComish can probably count himself unfortunate to have to drop down from the team to the bench to make way for Ferris - although McComish could have switched to the openside of the backrow in place of Sean Doyle, who retains his place.
Although there are seven changes in the side, Ulster look strong across the park, but will still get their biggest test of the season to date against Munster side going through a transitional period and indeed, still smarting, from a home Heineken Cup quarter-final loss to their Northern cousins last season.
A derby game between Irish Provinces so early in the league campaign is rare and both will be able to parade several of their frontline players.
The excitement has been building since the start of the season for this mouth watering clash between Ulster and Munster and last night 9,500 tickets had been sold - it will be close to a sellout tomorrow evening with only Grandstand and Promenade still available.
Ulster’s chief executive officer, Shane Logan and director of rugby, David Humphreys, have not hidden the face they want the Province to be the number one in Ireland and not third, languishing behind current European champions Leinster and double Heineken Cup winners, Munster.
Friday night’s game will be seen as pushing Ulster further up that ladder - perhaps even taking over in the number two spot - if they can chalk up a win.
In terms of the league competition, the Provinces are two of three remaining sides still boasting a 100 per cent record.
Anscombe is keen to see Ulster make that at least two tonight, but admits he wants to see a better performance from his side.
“Of course you want to win games, and it was great to see the side come back and take the points at Ospreys last week.
“They ground out the win against Glasgow the week before and our bench was the difference in Swansea last week.
“Yes it is good to be winning even when you are not playing so well, but we want to be playing well.
“It is the content that we want to look at and we want to play attractive football.
“It is still early days, there are players still coming back in and that will continue over the weeks as we lead up to European competition.”
Munster have a new coach, a New Zealand native like Anscombe, in Rob Penney.
While history will show that Munster rarely win at Ravenhill - twice since 2007 - Penney has won the last five ITM Cup meetings with Canterbury while Anscombe was coach of Northland and Auckland.
No better time for the new Ulster boss to right the record and adds to Friday night’s occasion.
“It’s not about us (coaches),” said Anscombe. “It is about Ulster putting in a performance.”