Tommy Bowe gets his first start of the season for Ulster when they travel to Zebre in the chase for a bonus-point win in the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi this afternoon.
Bowe came through a 40-minute session for the Ulster A side last week, his first run-out since major knee surgery following his injury during Ireland’s World Cup exit against Argentina.
Bowe replaces another Ireland wing Andrew Trimble who has been hit by a virus this week and remains at home. With fifth-placed Ulster needing to win their final three fixtures in what is a nerve-tingling finale to the Pro12 season, coach Les Kiss has loaded his side for the trip.
As expected, Jared Payne remains at full-back with Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding filling the midfield with left wing Craig Gilroy along with half-back Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar making it an all-international back line.
Up front, Rory Best resumes the captaincy with Peter Brown partnering Franco van der Merwe in the engine room while Sean Reidy and Roger Wilson join Iain Henderson in the back-row. Henderson is adamant that if you don’t show second-from-bottom Zebre respect, they can knock you back, as Ulster found in a 13-6 reverse two seasons ago.
“We saw last week it was 14-7 at half-time,” said Henderson. “Zebre were 25 minutes away from beating Glasgow, who came back to win 43-14 in the end. They’re fighting for the Italian European spot in the Champions Cup next season and they’ll be coming out all guns blazing trying to get the win.
“The whole top side of the table is real tight and the bottom half are all fighting for something too so it’ll go on right to the end,” said Henderson, who is two games into his own recovery and ready to be let off the leash.
“It’s been frustrating, but you have to take it on the chin,” said the 24-year-old forward. “Tommy was delighted to get back last week as well and he’s pulled through that. These things happen, you just have to get over it and get back on the horse.
“It’s been a good training week to get under the belt. Everyone is feeling refreshed and we’re raring to go at the weekend,” he added.
K Van Zyl; D Berryman, G Bisegni, M Pratichetti, L Sarto; C Canna, G Palazzani; A Lovotti, O Fabiani, P Ceccarelli; Q Geldenhuys (capt), V Bernabo; J Cook, F Ruzza, G Koegelenberg
B Postiglioni, A De Marchi, D Chistolini, M Bortolami, E Caffini, L Burgess, U Beyers, T Boni
J Payne; T Bowe, L Marshall, S Olding, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best (capt), R Lutton; P Browne, F van der Merwe; I Henderson, S Reidy, R Wilson
R Herring, K McCall, A Warwick, R Diack, C Henry, P Marshall, D Cave, R Scholes
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