Brian McLaughlin has made 12 changes to the starting XV for the RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Connacht tomorrow (5.15pm).
The Ulster coach has decided to rest a number of players so outhalf Ian Humphreys, fullback Stefan Terblanche and prop Tom Court are the only players retained from the side that defeated Munster in last weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter-final.
In the backs, Paul Marshall deputises at scrumhalf for Ruan Pienaar who starts as a substitute. There is a new centre combination with Ireland U-20 captain Paddy Jackson partnering Nevin Spence.
Adam D’Arcy and Ian Whitten replace Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy on the wings, with the latter dropping to the bench after his try of the season contender in Thomond Park.
Up front, Nigel Brady starts as hooker in place of Rory Best and takes over from Johann Muller as captain.
Tom Court moves across the scrum to tighthead prop, with Paddy McAllister starting at loosehead. Lewis Stevenson and Neil McComb start together in the second row for the first time.
Dynamic trio Mike McComish, Willie Faloon and Robbie Diack form an all new back row in place of Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg.
Twenty-year-old lock Iain Henderson is named on the bench and could make his senior debut if he enters the fray at any stage.
His Phoenix Academy colleagues Ali Birch and Michael Allen are also included among the replacements. Callum Black, Andi Kyriacou, Adam Macklin, Pienaar and Gilroy complete the squad.
The game is vital for Ulster’s hopes of finishing in the top four of the RaboDirect PRO12 and a win could send them into second place.
They currently occupy fifth spot in the table but are just three points adrift of second placed Ospreys.
If things go to plan for Ulster, it could be the longest season in the club’s history so McLaughlin is aware that he needs to keep his players in peak physical condition.
“The Munster match was very physical and a lot of players are still carrying bumps and bruises, so we decided it was best to give some of them a break,” the head coach remarked.
“It is crucial to look after the players with so many important games coming up before the end of the season.
“There are opportunities for us to test the water a bit with some of our squad players and it will be exciting to see how they perform.”
Ulster ( v Connacht): S Terblanche; I Whitten, N Spence, P Jackson, A D’Arcy; I Humphreys, P Marshall; P McAllister,N Brady (capt), T Court, L Stevenson, N McComb, M McComish, W Faloon, R Diack.
Replacements: A Kyriacou, C Black, A Macklin, I Henderson, A Birch, R Pienaar, C Gilroy, M Allen.
Unavailable due to injury:
Jared Payne (achilles tendon), Simon Danielli (hamstring), Tim Barker (back), Chris Cochrane (foot).