Ulster have made just one change for their 100th match in the Heineken Cup, with Ian Whitten coming in to replace injured centre Darren Cave for the vital Pool 4 clash with Clermont Auvergne on Saturday (kick-off 4.40pm local time/3.40pm Irish time).
Head coach Brian McLaughlin has had consistency in selection over recent weeks but the loss of Cave is a big blow for Ulster ahead of a massive encounter at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
Whitten, though, has had plenty of game-time and is a more than able replacement in midfield. The Ulster management can also call upon Nevin Spence who has returned from injury and is available from the bench.
Johann Muller will once again lead an all-international pack, in which loose forwards Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg have been in excellent form.
Ulster’s match winners against Leicester, Ruan Pienaar and Andrew Trimble, will hope to be instrumental again in helping the province secure a home quarter-final draw. Stefan Terblanche gets the nod over Adam D’Arcy at full-back.
Apart from the inclusion of Spence, the only other change among the replacements is Andi Kyriacou’s selection ahead of Nigel Brady. The hooker will earn his 50th cap for the province if he gets any time on the pitch.
Ulster have never won in France in 14 attempts, while their hosts on Saturday are unbeaten at home in 38 matches.
But Ulster will be buoyed by their performance against Leicester last Friday and are determined to create history by making the knockout stages in two consecutive years for the first time in their history.
Attack coach Neil Doak said: “This weekend is all about clearing the next hurdle in our progression. It was great to reach the quarter-finals last year and be highly competitive against Northampton Saints, but the game in Clermont is much bigger than last year’s quarter-final.
“We’ve got to go and get the monkey off our back by winning in France for the first time and we want to put ourselves in with a chance of a home draw in the last-eight.
“Munster and Leinster are already there and it would be great for Irish rugby if we had three provinces in the quarter-finals for the first time. We have been building nicely towards this game and the players all know how important it is.”
ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Ian Whitten, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Nevin Spence, Adam D’Arcy.