ULSTER (4th) v OSPREYS (3rd), Ravenhill, 7.35pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: Darren Cave will start at inside centre for Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Ospreys at Ravenhill on Friday night.
Cave wore the number 12 jersey for the Ireland Wolfhounds in the recent victory over England Saxons at Kingsholm.
For Ulster's return to league action, Cave will be partnered in midfield by Jared Payne who switches from full-back to outside centre.
In the back-three, Ricky Andrew starts at full-back, Craig Gilroy, who also represented the Wolfhounds, is selected on the left wing and Michael Allen returns to the province's starting line-up on the right.
With Paddy Jackson on international duty, James McKinney is named at out-half where he will start alongside experienced scrum half Ruan Pienaar.
Tom Court joins recent Wolfhounds debutant Rob Herring and John Afoa in the front row, with captain Johann Muller partnerered by Lewis Stevenson in the second row and Robbie Diack, Sean Doyle and Roger Wilson forming the back row.
Iain Henderson and Luke Marshall have been released by Ireland and are named on the bench. Former Ireland Under-20 full-back Rory Scholes is also named as a replacement and is in line to make his league debut.
Friday's match is a sell-out, the ninth game that has been sold out at Ravenhill this season.
There are fewer than 500 tickets remaining for next week's RaboDirect PRO12 game against the Scarlets. Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster or at ulsterrugby.com.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys hand lock Perry Parker his first start but are missing a total of 19 players due to international call-ups with Wales' senior team, the Under-20s the Sevens side.
Prop Ryan Bevington has been released from the Wales squad and features on the bench for the region.
Jonathan Spratt captains the depleted visitors from midfield, with Matthew Morgan and Tom Habberfield linking up at half-back.
Former Edinburgh forward Parker is paired with Lloyd Peers in the second row, while the experienced Joe Bearman - making his 48th league appearance for the Ospreys in three seasons - leads an combative back row.
Apart from international call-ups, the Welshmen are also missing some key players through injury - the likes of Andrew Bishop (back), Hanno Dirksen (thigh), Ryan Jones (hamstring) and Tom Smith (knee).
ULSTER: Ricky Andrew; Craig Gilroy, Jared Payne, Darren Cave, Michael Allen; James McKinney, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Sean Doyle, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Nick Williams, Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Rory Scholes.
OSPREYS: Sam Davies; Jeff Hassler, Jonathan Spratt (capt), Ashley Beck, Aisea Natoga; Matthew Morgan, Tom Habberfield; Duncan Jones, Scott Baldwin, Aaron Jarvis, Lloyd Peers, Perry Parker, Tyler Ardron, Sam Lewis, Joe Bearman.
Replacements: Matthew Dwyer, Ryan Bevington, Dan Suter, Dan Baker, Morgan Allen, Tito Tebaldi, Richard Fussell, Eli Walker.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Dudley Phillips, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/9; Draw: 25/1; Ospreys to win: 5/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Allen (Ulster) - "I loved the start of the season and had played the three games going into the Treviso match and I probably had never as played as well in an Ulster shirt.
"I felt really confident in myself and even going back to the Glasgow game where I stuffed up that pass from Rob Herring, bar that I had a good game.
"I followed it up with reasonable performances against Connacht and Treviso and now over these four games it's an opportunity for me to try and make a name for myself and get some of the early season form back.
"There are a few boys missing to the Ireland squad and arguably one of the most exciting players to come out of Irish rugby, Stuart Olding, is out for the entire year.
"Paddy Wallace hasn't got himself back yet, there is a shortage of people that can play 12 and I'm not saying you could throw me in there if I had my choice it would be outside centre, wing then full-back and 12.
"But if I'm called up to play there or fill in I'm going to do my best. If I hadn't played 13 before I'd find it more difficult moving from the wing straight into 12.
"I have experience at 13 and you can relate a few things from there to 12 and it is not as big a jump if I would have been (moved) from the wing, but as I've said from last season wherever Mark wants to play me I'll play."
Steve Tandy (Ospreys) - "These next four weeks are massive for us in terms of how the rest of the season plays out, and beyond that, in regards to what we are trying to build here for the longer term, whatever the future holds for Ospreys Rugby.
"In the short-term though, the focus is on Ulster this weekend then back-to-back games at the Liberty against Treviso and Munster.
"Some of the boys who have performed well over the last couple of games will get a chance to show what they can do while we have an experienced core to the group who will have to lead by example.
"Ravenhill is always a very difficult place to go and play, whatever time of the season you go there, but even more so during the international period.
"They have a strong core that is available to them throughout the season, with some world class overseas players, and that allows them to stay strong during this period.
"It's an example of what can be achieved by union and club working together for the good of the game, certainly. We know that it's going to be a challenge for us but we are up for it and looking forward to getting this period of games started."
Top Scorers - 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster - Points: Paddy Jackson 82; Tries: Michael Allen, Jared Payne 3 each; Ospreys - Points: Dan Biggar 121; Tries: Justin Tipuric, Eli Walker, Jeff Hassler 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Sunday, February 13, 2011 - Ospreys 23 Ulster 22, Liberty Stadium
Sunday, September 25, 2011 - Ospreys 32 Ulster 14, Liberty Stadium
Friday, February 24, 2012 - Ulster 15 Ospreys 14, Ravenhill
Saturday, September 8, 2012 - Ospreys 13 Ulster 16, Liberty Stadium
Friday, February 8, 2013 - Ulster 12 Ospreys 16, Ravenhill
Friday, October 4, 2013 - Ospreys 12 Ulster 18, Liberty Stadium
- Ulster's only defeat in their last nine matches in all competitions came against Leinster at the RDS in the RaboDirect PRO12 on December 28
- The Ulstermen came through the Heineken Cup with a perfect played 6, won 6 record to qualify as top seeds for the quarter-finals
- Ulster's only defeat at Ravenhill in the last twelve months was 13-12 to Glasgow Warriors in round 2 of the PRO12
- The Ospreys have won their last three encounters in the PRO12 since their 28-16 reversal at home to Glasgow on November 29
- The Welshmen have won their last two away games in the league, but have not won three in a row on the road since May 2012
- Ulster have won three of their last four contests with the Ospreys, the exception being their 16-12 defeat at Ravenhill almost 12 months ago
|1/10/16||Ulster Rugby||9 - 7||Ospreys||15,763|
|7/5/16||Ospreys||26 - 46||Ulster Rugby||9,923|
|4/9/15||Ulster Rugby||28 - 6||Ospreys||13,544|