Darren Cave and Craig Gilroy, who both played for the successful Ulster A side last week, are also back in contention. However, Ulster’s current woes just seem to mount up with Academy prop Ross Kane, who has a toe injury, joining five other tight-heads in the treatment room.
It could mean a first start for Jonny Simpson who has impressed when used as a replacement, while Ricky Lutton, may also be called into action.
With European qualification the main aim for next season and the PRO12 now taking over priorities, most of Ulster’s walking wounded are expected to be togged out for the Edinburgh home game on February 10, particularly the long-awaited debut of Springbok Marcel Coetzee along with the return of Ruan Pienaar and Stuart Olding.
Still, with French teams noticeably reticent to contribute much on the road if they are fighting a lost cause, Ulster are expected to win handsomely. Assistant coach Niall Malone puts their European disappointment down to their own atrocious away form.
“For a start, you have to win your home games to be competitive,” he said. “Then you have to pick up an away win or two. I thought we were well set in Bordeaux after 70 minutes in the first game in the Pool 5, and then we let that one slip through our fingers.
“Last weekend, if scrum-half David Shanahan scores under the Exeter posts instead of knocking it on, then we’re in the lead with 15 minutes to go. But remember, the teams we’re playing are top quality.
“Scarlets, for example, they beat Toulon before us and then drew with Saracens last week and people said it was a bad result for us but we got so close to beating them in Llanelli. I don’t think it would take a drastic change in fortunes for us to start winning those games.
“We talk about it a lot, because we’re so aware of it. Most teams’ away form isn’t as good as their home form. As I said, our last four away defeats have been against quality opposition who have phenomenal home records which make them really difficult tasks. I don’t feel any different (going away), people talk about the travel or the away fans. I think those teams just have such good home records and that makes them big challenges and if you do make mistakes they’re very costly away from home.
“Similarly, when teams play at the Kingspan Stadium they don’t play so well and that’s a phenomenon of sport. We have a string of home games coming up and all we can do is get a run going on Saturday to take into future away games, build up our confidence now.”