With several front line players available for selection this week Ulster are able to line out with a strong side against Zebre at a near sold out Ravenhill in the PRO12 on Friday (7.05pm).
It came as no surprise that Mark Anscombe made six changes and two positional switches in the linkup which lost 16-12 in Belfast to fellow top four challengers Ospreys.
But this is not a case of simply ringing the changes as a knee jerk reaction of last week’s are defeat at Ravenhill, this is a situation of bolstering the team with players who were not available last week.
Ireland released Chris Henry, Iain Henderson and Declan Fitzpatrick to their Province as expected this week, with all three starting, while John Afoa has returned from an extended agreed break in New Zealand and will get game time at tighthead from the bench.
Fitzpatrick comes into the starting XV on the tight side of the front row, with Tom Court moving to his now more traditional side of loosehead.
Henry and Henderson both come into the backrow at open and blind sides respectively.
In the backline, Darren Cave will start at outside centre with Luke Marshall switching to the inside – his preferred midfield role – with Paddy Wallace ruled out through injury.
Paddy Jackson has recovered from an ankle injury and starts at outhalf with Stuart Olding moving to the bench and the other chance in the backline sees winger Chris Cochrane preferred ahead of Michael Allen who featured last week.
There is extra pressure on Jackson as his performance will be monitored closely given he would be a major consideration on the Ireland bench next week for the Six Nations game at Murrayfield now that first choice flyhalf, Jonathan Sexton, is ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Jackson, along with Court and Henderson, were both called in to the mini-Irish training camp yesterday in Dublin.
It was initially intended to be attended by those who had started in the Ireland teams against Wales and England in the last fortnight, but given the injury situations in the Irish camp, the trio were called in.
Court would almost certainly be named on the bench against Scotland in light of the suspension – subject to appeal - Cian Healy was handed yesterday, while Henderson, who has been 24th man on the squad could be in with a shout now that Mike McCarthy is ruled out.
Henderson was capped twice off the bench during the November Test series games against South Africa and Argentina.
The only downside to their involvement in training on Thursday will be the effect that could have on them going into the PRO12 game as they will not now be as fresh.
Zebre come to Belfast still seeking their first win of the season in any competition. They contested well with Glasgow last week in Italy, but the Scots still went on to take a five match points and keep the pressure on Ulster at the top.
Ulster defence coach, Jonny Bell, said Zebre had competed well in some games this season both in Europe and the PRO12.
“They have only lost some of those games by a couple of points and we know they came far too close to beating us out in Italy. We have full respect for Zebre and we know they are coming to Ravenhill with nothing to lose.”