Ulster made the changes to the side as expected ahead of Friday night’stop of the PRO12 clash against Scarlets at Ravenhill (7.05pm), but there were a few notable absentees.
Forwards and Irish internationals, Rory Best and Iain Henderson are not named in the matchday ‘23’, understood to be ‘rested’, possibly as part of the IRFU player welfare programme – both will be certain to feature in the forthcoming Heineken Cup matches for Ulster and Six Nations with Ireland.
Jared Payne’s return has also been delayed. He had been suffering with a troublesome groin strain and was rested last week, but it is understood he pulled up at training. He was expected to return for next week’s crucial home Heineken Cup match against Glasgow in Pool Four.
Payne’s withdrawal affords another opportunity to Adam D’Arcy who made his first appearance in the senior jersey this season against Munster in the 24-10 defeat in Limerick, Ulster’s first defeat of the PRO12 campaign.
D’Arcy, winger Craig Gilroy, who recovered from a bang to the knee last week and centre, Luke Marshall, who was Ulster’s stand out player last week at Thomond Park, are the only three backs to retain their places in a starting XV which shows a total of eight changes.
Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson both return at halfbacks while Irish internationals Andrew Trimble and Darren Cave resume on the wing and outside centre positions.
Up front, Dan Tuohy returns from injury to go straight into the side, joining Lewis Stevenson in the second row.
In the backrow, Chris Henry returns at openside and will skipper the team against the Welsh visitors, with Nick Williams getting the start at No 8. In the front row, Tom Court is elevated from the bench to complete the changes.
Paul Marshall was not included in the panel this week as he is getting married on Saturday, which allows Michael Heaney, who impressed in his cameo role last week coming off the bench, to get another call to the replacements, which also include prop John Afoa.
Ulster currently have a nine point lead at the head of the PRO12 table from second placed Scarlets and a point more from Munster in third place.
Another victory for the Ulstermen would see them effectively maintain at least a nine point lead at the top after Round 13 of matches, with Munster needing to defeat Cardiff Blues on Saturday with a try scoring bonus to keep the difference the same.
However, Ulster want to simply return to winning ways after losing last week, not just to hold their buffer at the top of the PRO12 before they go into a short break, but also to keep the momentum going as they eye up two tricky Pool Four matches in the final two rounds of the group stages of the Heineken Cup.
For skipper, Henry, there is a lot coming up, including the Six Nations Championship with Ireland.
But he said the only focus this week has been Scarlets and preparing Ulster to do what they need to get back to winnings way.
“It is first against second. It’s a big game, they will be hurting from their defeat to the Ospreys and they are having a bit of a dip, so they will be coming here desperate to get the points,” said Henry.
“Equally, we are desperate to get back to winning ways after Munster.”
“The Munster performance, I thought more players would put their hands up, I am expecting this week to be an exciting game and we play the way we can.
Like most contests, Henry believes the key to beating the Scarlets will be up front.
“The set-piece will be massive, the breakdown too, they like to throw the ball and play expansive rugby, if we can slow down the ball at the breakdown, which will be crucial.”
“We didn’t hold the ball for long enough at Munster and that’s something we need to address, we need to keep the ball for longer.
“Our backline, if we give them fast ball, is one of the best in Europe at the moment.
“We can score tries, there are players everywhere who can score tries, but as a pack we have to ensure we get them quick.”
Henry will don the skippers armband this week but with a great team bon and plenty of other leaders on the pitch the flanker admits that makes his job easier.
“I don’t have to do too much. Everyone will speak up if something needs to be said and luckily I don’t have to say too much.”