Ulster have been boosted by the return of five Irish internationals for the first Interpro of the season against Munster at Thomond Park on Saturday evening.
Skipper Iain Henderson and winger Jacob Stockdale are available after their exertions with Ireland at the World Cup, while prop Marty Moore, loose forward Jordi Murphy and centre Stuart McCloskey have all recovered from injury.
It wasn’t all good news though as Will Addison faces another spell on the side lines after he suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win over Zebre, while Louie Ludik will follow concussion return to play protocols.
Skills coach Dan Soper is cautious about starting Henderson and Stockdale in Limerick.
“They have integrated to part but haven’t done full training yet,” he said.
“We didn’t want to throw them in the deep end, but they have done parts of training and look like they’re tracking pretty good. If they have come through and there are no ill-effects then hopefully we might see them involved in some part of.”
Injury hampered Addison’s World Cup chances and Soper is hoping the latest injury won’t keep the former Sale Shark out for long.
He said: “Sometimes you see players on a bit of run like that, hopefully this isn’t too bad and it doesn’t slow him up for too long as he’s had a rough year and that was a huge part of why he didn’t get the opportunity to get to the World Cup.”
The Kiwi is under no illusion of the task facing Ulster this weekend, Munster top Conference B and have turned Thomond Park into a fortress.
“I think they have won 17 on the bounce or something at home, it’s a hell of a challenge and it’s a pretty exciting one too get stuck into,” he said.
“They have a lot of internationals back in the mix this week so they are a very proud province and a wonderful record at home, it makes it a tough place to go.
“Last year when we didn’t start the game well and went 17-0 down pretty quickly and once you’re in an environment like that if you give them a bit of a head start you make your job pretty tough so I think it’s important we get down there and get off to a good start.”
Ulster suffered a 64-7 mauling in Limerick last season conceding nine tries in and Soper wants revenge.
He said: “It’s a great opportunity for us when you think back to that game last year it was the first games for a lot of the young guys, but they have made progress and they have learnt about that game.
“It’s essential that we put in a good performance for the bigger picture, we’re in a really competitive conference and those points are going to be vital down the road so it’s really important.”