Smarting from a heavy record loss to Munster in the Guinness PRO14 last week, Ulster were probably relieved their depleted ranks have been boosted by the return of some big game players for Thursday’s team announcement.
Captain Rory Best has recovered from injury along with fellow Irish international Jacob Stockdale to both start in the PRO14 derby against Connacht at Kingspan Stadium (7:35pm) on Friday night.
Both make their first appearances of the new season.
Influential backrow Marcell Coetzee has also recovered from a shoulder injury suffered on the mini tour to South Africa and having those three on board will hopefully be a huge lift along with the return of powerful centre, Stuart McCloskey.
Best will captain the side on his return and will join Tom O’Toole and Andy Warwick in the front row.
Alan O’Connor and Iain Henderson will continue their second row partnership, the latter having been given the green light following concussion last week in the Munster game.
Coetzee will pack down at number 8, alongside Matthew Rea and Nick Timoney in the back row.
John Cooney and Billy Burns are retained in the half back positions, while McCloskey and Angus Curtis are paired together in midfield for the first time - the former coming in for the injured Darren Cave.
Stockdale joins Angus Kernohan and Peter Nelson in the back three.
Replacement lock Kieran Treadwell is set to make his 50th appearance for the Province and is joined on the bench by fellow forwards Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane and Sean Reidy.
Johnny McPhillips could make his overdue first appearance of the season after being named in the match day squad.
It is crucial Ulster bounce back from last week’s game against Munster as they build towards their opening group games in the European Champions Cup.
ULSTER: Peter Nelson; Angus Kernohan, Angus Curtis, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best (captain), Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson, Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, Marcell Coetzee;
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Dave Shanahan, Johnny McPhillips, James Hume.