Ireland’s Jared Payne returns to a strong Ulster’s match-day squad for tomorrow’s difficult Pro12 trip to Treviso.
Payne — out with a foot injury sustained on his international debut against South Africa in November — should see game time as coach Neil Doak makes two changes from the side that lost to Leinster last week. South African Louis Ludik, the only non-international in the back line, returns at full-back after being rested last week while Franco van Der Merwe misses out due to a chest infection, with Alan O’Connor named alongside Dan Tuohy.
Winger Tommy Bowe has recovered sufficiently from a dead leg to continue on the right wing while Rory Best will skipper a side desperate to finish in the play-offs.
Best said: “We know that first and foremost we have to be the top four of the Pro12 by the end of the league competition. We know we are a top four team and we know we can be in those play-offs.”
Best has vowed not to go down without a fight in the European Champions Cup next weekend.
“We will certainly give it our all in Toulon next week. They are the defending champions and a world class team and irrespective of what happens we will not be rolling over in Belfast when Leicester come the following week.
“There are a lot of injuries in the squad and the people coming in are doing a job. We have said as a group that it is not the 15 who lift the trophy that count, it is the guys who get you there. Leinster, whom we played last week, are probably the ultimate example of that. They went from fourth or fifth to top from the points they picked up during the Six Nations, when their front liners were away last season.
“We are still scrapping away, we are still in there at the right end of the table.”
He added: “If we can keep our boys trucking away and keep getting the wins and get a bit of a run on during the Six Nations period, then we will be there. Starting on Sunday it is time for us to hit form.”
BENETTON TREVISO: J Hayward; A Esposito, M Campagnaro, L Morisi, A Pratichetti; S Christie, E Gori; M Zanusso, D Giazzon, R Harden; T Vallejos, C Van Zyl; M Barbini, A Zanni (capt), D Budd.
Replacements: A Anae, J Novak, D Rae, M Fuser, F Minto, M Swanepoel, J Ambrosini, A Lucchese.
ULSTER: L Ludik; T Bowe, D Cave, S Olding, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best, W Herbst; A O’Connor, D Tuohy; R Diack, C Ross, R Wilson.
Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, B Ross, L Stevenson, S Reidy, P Marshall, J Payne, P Nelson.
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