Ulster start rookie tight-head Ross Kane against a fired-up Ospreys at the Kingspan Stadium this evening.
With both teams engineering bonus-point wins last week, and still within sniffing distance of play-off places in both the Guinness PRO14 and Europe, it promises to be an intriguing battle for points.
The 23-year-old Kane is one of four changes coach Jono Gibbes has made following that rare win at Murrayfield against Edinburgh.
Kane, making only his third start this season, takes over from debutant teenager Tom O’Toole and is joined by skipper Rory Best and Callum Black, who steps into the boots of Andrew Warwick, who, unusually for a prop, played all of last week’s game.
The change in the back-row sees Sean Reidy in at number 8 with Jean Deysel taking over as open-side flanker while Kieran Treadwell is Iain Henderson’s engine-room partner.
The Ulster backline, which looked very sharp against Edinburgh, remains the same with the consistently-superb Louis Ludik fit again despite having to come off with a back injury last week.
And it could be an emotional farewell for Ireland, Lions and former Ospreys star Tommy Bowe who will undoubtedly come off the bench for his 167th cap.
Obviously helping Ulster over the line would be great way to end his 14-year professional career. “Absolutely,” said Bowe, looking to bring his try tally to 66.
“A home crowd, must win game for us, these are the kind of games you relish the most.
“For the last month or two, I haven’t really been part of the team. I don’t think we’ve won with me in the team since Harlequins away in December.
Bowe continued: “In that changing room after you win, it’s a feeling that’s so hard to describe. It’s a feeling you’ll never be able to recreate, like against Edinburgh last week. If we can get on a run with a bit of confidence, who knows what could happen.”
Ospreys have Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones at blindside due to a back-row crisis with Justin Tipuric, Dan Lydiate, Olly Cracknell, Will Jones and Rob McCusker all sidelined.
Meanwhile, centre Darren Cave has signed a one-year contract extension to remain at Ravenhill until the end of the 2018/19 season.
Full squad details ➡️ https://t.co/VmqwwYPfxLApril 12, 2018
C Piutau, L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, J McPhillips, J Cooney; C Black, R Best (Capt), R Kane, K Treadwell, I Henderson, M Rea, J Deysel, S Reidy.
R Herring, A Warwick, T O’Toole, A O’Connor, N Timoney, D Shanahan, L Marshall, T Bowe.
— Ospreys (@ospreys) April 12, 2018
D Evans; J Hassler, K Fonotia, O Watkin, H Dirksen, D Biggar, T Habberfield; N Smith, S Otten, D Arhip, B Davies, A Beard, A Wyn Jones (capt), S Cross, J King.
I Phillips, R Jones, M Fia, L Ashley, G Mercer, M Aubrey, S Davies, J Hook.
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