Brian McLaughlin has named a preliminary 33-man squad ahead of Ulster’s Magners League derby match against Leinster at the RDS on Saturday (kick-off 8pm).
Conor Gaston, Tommy Seymour and Neil McComb return to the province’s enlarged panel, but prop Declan Fitzpatrick misses out through injury.
Ulster are hoping to bounce back from the disappointment of their Heineken Cup exit as they look to record their seventh consecutive win in the Magners League.
Back rower Robbie Diack, who will be Irish-qualified in the summer, said: “We put up a good fight against Northampton last Sunday. We had the belief we would do well and that we could cause an upset.
“We came up short last weekend which means we know that next season we need to improve. But we are well-placed to do that and we will keep working hard.”
Commenting on Ulster’s drive to reach the Magners League semi-finals, he added: “We are still in with a shout of reaching the play-offs and we will keep our motivation and try to maintain the winning momentum that we had built up in the Magners League.
“We still have a chance to achieve something special this season. Reaching the play-offs is in our own hands and we know what we have to do.
“The Leinster game is crucial for us; they are incredibly tough opponents, especially at home.”
Second rows Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy have been listed in the squad to face Leinster despite doubts over their fitness. There is more concern for South African Muller who has been having treatment this week on a quad injury.
The province’s operations director David Humphreys rates Leinster as ‘the most complete team in Europe’ at present and knows that Ulster cannot afford to lose ground in the race to reach the play-offs.
“In spite of losing the quarter-final there were definitely positives to be taken from the performance. Now, we are even more determined to make the league play-offs,” said the former Ulster and Ireland out-half.
“With six teams still looking for a top four place there is a huge amount at stake and it is important not to lose many games at this stage of the season.”
After Saturday’s trip to Dublin, Brian McLaughlin’s men host Connacht at Ravenhill on Friday, April 22 and then complete the league phase by visiting the Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday, May 6.
ULSTER Squad (v Leinster) – Backs (15): Ruan Pienaar, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Niall O’Connor, Ian Whitten, Nevin Spence, Paddy Wallace, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble, Simon Danielli, Tommy Seymour, Craig Gilroy, Conor Gaston, Jamie Smith, Adam D’Arcy.
Forwards (18): Jerry Cronin, Tom Court, BJ Botha, Paddy McAllister, Bryan Young, Rory Best, Nigel Brady, Andi Kyriacou, Ryan Caldwell, Neil McComb, Dan Tuohy, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Thomas Anderson, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.