19 May, 11:13
There are six uncapped players in the Ireland squad for the summer tour to North America that was named this morning. An Emerging Ireland squad has also been selected for the Tblisi Cup in Georgia.
Just over a year into his second spell with Ulster, likeable prop Justin Fitzpatrick reckons the province's standard of rugby continues to rise.
The former Irish international rejoined Ulster for last season, having spent two years plying his trade in France with Castres Olympique.
A regular on the loosehead side of the scrum, Fitzpatrick is well placed to judge how Ulster have progressed since he flew the coup in 2003.
He said: "The standard here gets better and better every year. The standard of the Magners League is also getting stronger every year, as well as the squads of players competing in it. This Ulster squad would certainly be one of the strongest squads I've been involved with. Guys are facing a fight every week to hold onto their position and that's the way it should be."
Just like his team-mates, the 1999 Heineken Cup winner was left frustrated when the province's 12-match unbeaten run was ended by Edinburgh (20-15) last weekend but he still took some positives from the trip to Murrayfield.
"It was very disappointing, but I really think the result could have gone either way. Right until the death we could have sneaked it, as we have done a few times in the past two years in other matches.
"Therein lies the strength of this Ulster team. We keep fighting to the end which is very, very positive. That said, we still didn't get the right result, so there have been a few areas we've been concentrating on in training this week," he told reporters at Ulster's Newforge training base.
If Ulster are to win back-to-back league titles, their defence should recommence tonight at Ravenhill with a win over former champions, the Ospreys.
"The Ospreys are a great side, they won the league two years ago, they are full of Welsh internationals and are a very competitive outfit," Fitzpatrick added.
"It will be nothing but a big battle. We've got a few things to prove to ourselves, and hopefully we can pull through."