Ulster have made seven changes to their starting line-up for the sold-out GUINNESS PRO12 fixture against Connacht at Kingspan Stadium on Friday (kick-off 6.45pm).
In the absence of Rory Best, who is rested along with fellow Ireland squad member Tommy Bowe, Roger Wilson will captain the side in what will be his 300th professional match.
There is a new half-back pairing with Paddy Jackson returning in place of Ian Humphreys at out-half and Paul Marshall deputising for Ruan Pienaar, who has failed to recover from a knee injury picked up against the Ospreys last weekend.
Wingers Craig Gilroy and Peter Nelson are the other new faces in the back-line, replacing Bowe and Michael Allen respectively.
Rob Herring starts at hooker in place of Best and is joined in an all-new front row by props Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst.
The remainder of the pack is unchanged from the defeat in Swansea, with Dan Tuohy and Franco van der Merwe continuing their second row partnership and Robbie Diack, Clive Ross and number 8 Wilson again combining in the back row.
Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy hooker John Andrew is named on the replacements bench and will earn his second cap if called upon, while Michael Heaney (pictured below) is the only other addition to the matchday squad from last week.
Wilson, who has played Ulster and Northampton Saints and also represented Ireland, Ireland ‘A’, the Barbarians and a World XV invitational side, is pleased to have reached 300 professional cap mark.
“It’s a nice milestone to reach,” he said. “I suppose it just reminds you of how fortunate you are to be playing the sport that you love for so long, especially when you look at players like Stephen Ferris who have had to retire early. I’ve stayed relatively injury free and durability has probably been one of my strong points throughout my career.”
But the 33 year-old is not getting carried away and knows Connacht will arrive at Kingspan Stadium looking to spoil the party.
“It will be very tough, especially with us having won only one of our last four. Connacht seem to be improving year on year and they’re picking up scalps regularly in Europe now as well as in the league.
“We’ve been disappointing over the past month but we’ve got to make sure we’re firing on all cylinders on Friday night because we will have to be at our best to get the win,” added Wilson.
ULSTER (v Connacht): Louis Ludik; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Peter Nelson; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Wiehahn Herbst, Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Clive Ross, Roger Wilson (capt).
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Declan Fitzpatrick, Alan O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Michael Heaney, Ian Humphreys, Stuart Olding.