Injury-striken Ulster have been boosted by the return of scrumhalf John Cooney and influential forward Iain Henderson for Saturday night’s game against Munster.
Ulster’s unbeaten start to the Guinness PRO14 - the only club to remain so after four rounds - have been badly hit with injury up front and will get a stern examination in Limerick’s cauldron Thomond Park tonight (7.35pm).
Henderson was not on the squad which went to South African for the games against Southern Kings and Toyota Cheetahs.
Cooney suffered a bad head gash in the first half of the Kings game two weeks ago and required nine stitches, which saw him miss last week’s game.
With a plethora of injuries Ulster head coach, Dan McFarland, will be grateful to have both available for the first Irish derby of the PRO14 season.
Although not in South Africa, Henderson has had a busy week.
The British Lion and Ireland sat two University exams, moving house and helping his club Queen’s launch their 150th anniversary celebrations.
“I’m really excited coming back for the derbies, especially this one, it’s fantastic,” said Henderson.
“I think we always relish playing these games against our provincial and international team mates, so everyone’s really excited for it.
“I’m sure the Munster guys are looking to get back on the pitch after last weekend and prove what they can do, more effectively than last weekend.”
Henderson added: “ Inter-pro games always have a lot more edge and expectation on them, they almost feel like playoff games and I suppose that’s why they are more intense and there seems like there’s more on the line for them.
“On top of that, people are vying for national places and trying to put their hands up, so that ups the ante as well it’s a combination of all those factors that make for such intense games.
“It’s the first inter-pro, and Munster are on the back foot a bit after last week in Cardiff, so they’ll be looking to show what they can do what they didn’t do against Cardiff and we’ll have to take the brunt of that and try to counter-act it.”
Having had two weeks to freshen up, Henderson is good to go.
“I’m good, couple of weeks not training, so I’m feeling fresh and looking forward to the challenges the next four or five weeks bring.
“There was always a plan to take an extra training week and get a bit of down time as well, bit of regeneration, video work behind the scenes and some rehab - I’ve had one of those niggles that everyone carries so that’s going to carry me in really good stead to play a good string of games now.
“To get the best out of players long term you have to manage them, especially when you can forecast where they’re going to have long periods of time without rest .
“Like around the Six Nations leading into the end of the season and even as far as the World Cup next year, all the planning that goes in is to minimise risk and injury, and to keep playing form as high as possible.”
Ulster have won three and drawn one of their opening for games and they travel to Limerick a point behind Leinster in Conference B but Henderson wants a more clinical edge.
“We’re happy with the start, but we don’t want to win the rest of the games by one point with the last play of the game, yes, we’re happy with our attack, and yes, we’re happy we have the resilience to do it but we want to be able to ensure we don’t go 21-6 down to Edinburgh and give up those sloppy tries at the beginning of the game.
“Yes we have gotten better but whether it’s next week or two weeks, we only give away one try at the start of the game and we win by a bigger margin, it’s those small work-ons,” added Henderson.