Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named his starting line-up and replacements for Saturday’s Magners League meeting with European champions Leinster at the RDS (kick-off 5.30pm).
A number of changes have been made to the Ulster team that faced Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup last weekend.
Phoenix Ulster Rugby Academy player Jamie Smith comes in to make his competitive debut at full-back, with Darren Cave and Ian Whitten paired in the centre, replacing Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble.
Smith has been progressing well for Ballymena and the Ulster Ravens this season and the 21-year-old will be eager to impress the Ulster management at the RDS.
Both Wallace and Trimble are being rested under the IRFU Player Management Programme, along with a number of the province’s other Ireland-capped players.
Niall O’Connor will start at out-half, in place of Ian Humphreys who moves to the bench.
Up front, Bryan Young replaces a rested Tom Court at loosehead prop. Also being rested is flanker Stephen Ferris, who is replaced at number 6 by David Pollock, with Thomas Anderson operating at openside flanker and Willie Faloon providing back-up on the bench.
With Rory Best a long term absentee and Wallace being rested, number 8 Chris Henry will captain Ulster once again.
Commenting on the back-to-back interprovincial matches over the festive period, Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin said: “We are in a very tough run of games right through this whole phase. Right from now we have Leinster this week, Munster the following week, then the Ospreys, then we are back to Europe.
“So it is a very important phase for us, especially with the Magners League being so tight. You just have to look at Glasgow, we lost (to them) and went from 2nd to 7th in the table.
“It is very, very tight and we have to be in a situation that we have to get something from every game.
“We are looking for a performance (against Leinster). We were very disappointed at the weekend in Paris. We thought that we had fought hard, but to fight hard just wasn’t good enough.
“Our discipline at times let us down, and we made too many errors, which cost us dear on the day. These are things that we have got to iron out for this weekend. We will go to Dublin positive, and hopefully come away with something.”
He added: “The IRFU Player Management Programme is taking place during this phase of the league. The Irish squad players are only allowed to play a certain number of games, and we reckoned that the Christmas break was a good time to give them their rest.
“No disrespect to Leinster obviously, but we thought that this was a good opportunity to go down to Dublin and give some other guys in the squad a chance to play. We will have the boys back for Munster and the Ospreys.
“When we play these top teams, we seem to be able to lift our game, and play a lot better. We always put the same effort into every game.
“We will look for opportunities and play accordingly, we’re confident that we can go down there and get a performance.”
ULSTER (v Leinster): Jamie Smith; Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli; Niall O’Connor, Isaac Boss; Bryan Young, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Dan Tuohy, David Pollock, Thomas Anderson, Chris Henry (capt).
Replacements: Andy Kyriacou, Declan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Caldwell, Willie Faloon, Cillian Willis, Ian Humphreys, Jonny Shiels.