Ulster have received a timely boost ahead of next week’s European Champions Cup quarter-final with the return from injury of backrow Marcell Coetzee for Saturday evening’s Guinness PRO14 game against Southern Kings at Kingspan Stadium (5:30pm).
Coetzee has not been in action for the Irish Province since January after he suffered a hamstring injury in the final pool match in Europe against Leicester Tigers.
But having the abrasive South African back in the side ahead of next week’s tough test in Dublin against Leinster is a massive lift.
Coetzee is one of five changes from the team which defeated Dragons two weeks ago in Newport.
Jordi Murphy is not included this week, but should be involved next week against his old club.
Nick Timoney switches to flanker to give Coetzee the number eight spot,
Matty Rea starts instead of Clive Ross in the backrow.
The other changes up front come in the front row with Andy Warwick and Ian Nagle starting ahead of Eric O’Sullivan and Kieran Treadwell.
Although John Cooney is the only one of the Irish internationals involved following the Six Nations Championship series, Dave Shanahan gets the start at scrumhalf in what is the only change in the backs. Cooney is named on the bench.
Ulster can move into second place in Conference B of the PRO14 with a win against Southern Kings.
Benetton suffered a 29-14 loss at Connacht last night.
However, Edinburgh kept the pressure on those chasing the play-off spots by securing a bonus point win over Conference B winners, Leinster last night in the Scottish capital, a win which saw them leapfrog Scarlets who lost heaving at Cardiff Blues.
Ulster’s only focus is on themselves insisted scrum coach Aaron Dundon this weekend.
“We have to control what we can in what is going to be a tight run-in to the end of the PRO14 season,” he said.
“And that means we have to go out and make sure we put in the performance at home against the Southern Kings which delivers the right result.”
The South African visitors come to Belfast seeking their first overseas win of this campaign.
And while they sit second from bottom in the Conference B standings, they had picked up enough try scoring bonus and losing bonus points to indicate they will not make life easy for Ulster this evening.
Ulster need to secure second place in the table behind Leinster if they are to have home advantage in the play-offs and a full haul of points is what would be expected this evening against the Kings.
But Dundon also said Ulster had to be aware of the task head.
“It is a big job. The Kings, they are near the bottom of the conference but they are a very dangerous team and they have some really attacking threats.
“They have scored some tries and they have a driving maul that we saw against Cardiff so we can’t underestimate them and we want the players to focus on this game.
“The coaching staff have done a bit of work already in regards to looking at Leinster, but we want to go out and do a big performance this week and get a win as it is so important for us in the position we are in, in the league.
“We have put ourselves into a good position now so we can’t be flaky about this.
“We want to get as many points as we can against the Kings and finish the season strong in the PRO14 because that’s a competition we want to do really well in.
Southern Kings have made two changes to the side which just lost in Cardiff Blues
No8 Ruaan Lerm, who missed out on the action against The Blues due to concussion, is back in the starting lineup with Andisa Ntsila, on the bench.
The other change is at scrumhalf where Stefan Ungerer returns to the starting team replacing the injured Sarel Pretorius.
The only new addition to the match-day 23 is the return of Harlon Klaasen to the team. The centre will provide midfield cover from the bench, in a rotational switch with Berton Klaasen, who has been rested.
Head coach Deon Davids said “We are expecting rainy and muddy conditions over in Belfast. It is very cold this time of the season in Ireland. So, underfoot it will be a bit slippery which will make the conditions a bit challenging,”
“Looking back at our last tour, we will have to revisit how we approach it – the way we play our rugby in our back 50, and what we want to achieve in our front 50.
“I think the guys are starting to understand the importance of having a good mindset and minimising our mistakes.”
The Kings have won two games this season and are seeking their first overseas success against Ulster.
Ulster: Ludik; Baloucoune, Cave, McCloskey, Lyttle; Burns, Shanahan; Warwick, Herring, Moore, O’Connor (capt), Nagle, Rea, Timoney, Coetzee.
Replacements: Andrew, Herbst, O’Toole, Treadwell, Ross, Cooney, Lowry, Kernohan.
Southern Kings: Beyers; Penxe, Rokoua, Kruger, Basson; B Pretorius, Ungerer; Tshakweni, Willemse, Terblanche, Van Schalkwyk, Astle, Brown, Burger, Lerm.
Replacements: A Van Rooyen, Ferreira, Mguca, Greeff, Ntsila, R Van Rooyen, Banda, Klaasen.