Ballymena youngster Marcus Rea will make his first start for Ulster in Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 second round match against the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium (kick-off 5.15pm).
The 23-year-old Rea, who turned in a man-of-the-match performance in his only previous Ulster appearance (as a replacement against Leinster in April 2019), has been named at openside flanker by head coach Dan McFarland.
Marcus’ older brother Matthew – the province’s man-of-the-match in last week’s 35-24 bonus point win over Benetton Rugby – will line out alongside him at blindside, with Springbok Marcell Coetzee once again packing down at number 8.
The all-international trio of Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Martin Moore have been given the front row starting berths, and Alan O’Connor rejoins captain Iain Henderson in the second row.
Matt Faddes returns to the starting XV, linking up with full-back Jacob Stockdale and Rob Lyttle in the back-three. Young centres James Hume and Stewart Moore are retained while Ian Madigan is the fourth and final change, partnering John Cooney, a Zurich Irish Rugby Players’ Player of the Year nominee, at half-back.
The Ulster coaches have opted for a six-two split on the replacements bench. Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Gareth Milasinovich, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones and Sean Reidy provide the forward options, with David Shanahan and Louis Ludik offering back-line cover.
Speaking ahead of the trip to Swansea, Ulster skills coach Dan Soper said: “We are under no illusions. We had a good start in game one. But it counts for nothing if we don’t back it up in game two.
Probably the best thing for us is it (the Benetton game) felt like another step forward in our performance from where we’ve been at the end of last season or the last few weeks.
“Three fellas that come though the age groups system, to them playing together for Ulster in a senior fixture was really exciting. I thought they (Stewart Moore, James Hume and Michael Lowry) did really well. There’s a lot of potential there to work on.
“James is doing very well and, don’t get me wrong, but he’d be the first to admit he’s still learning, he’s still developing. I want to see him playing for Ireland, but let’s take one step at a time.”
ULSTER (v Ospreys): Jacob Stockdale; Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle; Ian Madigan, John Cooney: Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (capt), Matthew Rea, Marcus Rea, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Gareth Milasinovich, Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Louis Ludik, Sean Reidy.