Future Ireland prospect Jared Payne will captain Ulster when they travel to face the Scarlets in Llanelli this evening (6.30pm).
With Johann Muller sidelined with a calf injury and Rory Best and Chris Henry on Ireland squad duty, Payne gets to lead the side for only the second time. Kiwi Payne, who qualifies for Ireland on residency at the end of the season, reverts to full-back for the trip as head coach Mark Anscombe makes eight changes from the side that recorded a bonus-point win over the Blues last week.
The versatile Stuart Olding was due to line-out at fly-half, but concussion has ruled him out of contention so Ruan Pienaar will wear the number 10 jersey with Paul Marshall coming in as his half-back partner. The in-form Darren Cave and Chris Farrell form a new midfield duo while Michael Allen returns to the left wing with Andrew Trimble, who was released by Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, on the right.
In the front row, Rob Herring comes in for Best at hooker with John Afoa and Callum Black continuing as his props. There is a new second-row pairing with Lewis Stevenson and Neil McComb starting, while Roger Wilson, another released by Ireland, moves to openside, with Nick Williams returning from injury to wear the number 8 jersey and Robbie Diack on the blindside.
Assistant coach Jonny Bell believes that while it is a difficult time of the year due to the autumn internationals, overall the Ulster squad is stronger.
“You turn up for training not knowing what you’ve got or what you have available until later in the week. But to be honest, it’s a good sign from our perspective in that we have more representation in the Ireland squad, and that is what we want,” said Bell.
ULSTER: J Payne, (c); A Trimble, D Cave, C Farrell, M Allen; R Pienaar, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring, J Afoa, L Stevenson, N McComb, R Diack, R Wilson, N Williams.
Replacements: N Annett, K McCall, R Lutton, M McComish, S Doyle, J McKinney, R Andrew, D McIlwaine.
SCARLETS: G Owen; N Reynolds, G Maule, A Warren, J Williams; S Shingler, G Davies; P John, capt, K Myhill, S Lee, J Ball, G Earle, A Shingler, J Turnbull, S Timani.
Replacements: D Harris, R Evans, J Adriaanse, J Synman, J Barclay, A Davies, AThomas, C Knight.
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