As expected backrow forwards Chris Henry and Nick Williams will return to the Ulster side for Friday night’s sell-out Irish derby PRO12 match against current leaders Munster.
It is a massive boost for Mark Anscombe’s side after the way the pack were battered into submission by Leinster in a 19-6 reverse last Saturday night in the first of the traditional double Irish Inter-pro games over the festive period.
Also returning to the side will be tighthead prop, John Afoa, who has been on a break in New Zealand with his family.
Ulster captain and lock, Johann Muller is also due back to lead the side - another big plus given the lack of leadership in the team during the defeat in Dublin.
Iain Henderson had also targeted a return to playing this weekend, but a decision on his involvement will be taken later in the week.
With vital Heineken Cup matches looming against Montpellier and Leicester Tigers in the middle of January, the return of Henry and Williams is especially crucial.
Henry suffered a hamstring injury while playing for Ireland against Samoa in early November and has not been rushed back - it is understood he would have been available for selection last week.
Williams had been struggling with a calf injury which has kept him out for six weeks now.
Meanwhile, hopes continue to remain high that British Lions’ Tommy Bowe and Rory Best will be available for the final push in Pool Five of the Heineken Cup.
Winger Bowe could be involved against Montpellier while Best may have to wait a week longer for what could be the crunch decider against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
In terms of fresh injuries, as revealed by the News Letter yesterday morning, Paddy Wallace is ruled out for at least three weeks with a muscle tear in his leg.
It is a massive blow for Ulster’s most capped player who had just made his return to the senior side having been out for nine months with an ACL injury.
Luke Marshall, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave and Rob Herring all suffered soft tissue injuries in the RDS loss.
Ulster Rugby said last night the four were responding well to treatment and they were all expected to be available for the massive hit-out against Munster.
Ulster had always intended to use the holiday fixtures to mix and match their squad, the only difference being that they are able to field strong sides in both games, rather than opt for a second string as has been the case in recent seasons due to the IRFU player management programme.
Assistant coach, Jonny Bell said: “We wanted to make sure that those who are fit stay fit and those who are injured become fit and then get significant game-time to enable them to be live contenders for selection for the European games.
“It is a case of mixing and matching things a bit - but we still want to get the performances.”
Ulster slipped to fifth place after the loss to Leinster, who moved second.
Munster lead the table and have a 10-point lead on Ulster at this stage.