Hooker Rob Herring will return from international duty to captain Ulster when they play Zebre at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 7.35pm).
Head coach Dan McFarland has made six changes to the province’s starting XV from last weekend’s 23-14 home victory over Cardiff Blues in the GUINNESS PRO14.
Four of the alterations have been made in the back-line where Will Addison assumes the full-back position, Robert Lyttle returns to join Louis Ludik on the wings, and Matt Faddes partners Luke Marshall in midfield.
There is a new-look half-pairing as Bill Johnston and David Shanahan team up for the first time, while Herring is the only change in the front row, joining Jack McGrath and Tom O’Toole who will start his fifth consecutive game at tighthead.
Locks Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell link up again, with Matthew Rea, who also starts his fifth game in a row, featuring at blindside flanker, Nick Timoney returning at openside, and Marcell Coetzee completes the back row at number 8.
Adam McBurney, Kyle McCall, Ross Kane, Sam Carter and Sean Reidy provide the province’s forward cover. In-form half-back John Cooney is set to hit the 50-cap mark for Ulster off the bench, and he is joined by Angus Curtis and Craig Gilroy for the back-line reinforcements.
Ulster forwards coach Roddy Grant commented: “We were pleased to win (against Cardiff). It’s always good to win at home. We played well in spells and certainly in the opening 20 minutes when we went 17-0 up, but then Cardiff did really well to come back at us.
“We made a few errors and gave away a few penalties, then the momentum shifted. We didn’t quite get a grasp of the game again. It’s a mix between being happy that we won but frustrated that it wasn’t an 80-minute performance.
“You’ll always get the answer that every game is a tough game, and it is, but it makes it slightly easier for us to say when you look at what Zebre did last weekend. Leinster are arguably the best team in the PRO14 and have gone pretty well so far this season, and to get a 3-0 score in that, it’s a pretty easy argument for us to say it’s going to be a tough game.
“Any game at home you want a really good performance – you want to win every game anyway but certainly at home – five points or not – it’s a big game for us. We need league points, especially at this stage of the season, so we will be working really hard and the aim is to win the game.”
Tickets for the Ulster v Zebre game, priced from £17 for adults, £12 for juniors, and £46 for a family of four, are still available at ulsterrugby.com/buytickets.
ULSTER (v Zebre): Will Addison; Louis Ludik, Matt Faddes, Luke Marshall, Robert Lyttle; Bill Johnston, David Shanahan; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring (capt), Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Kyle McCall, Ross Kane, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, John Cooney, Angus Curtis, Craig Gilroy.