Matthew Rea is set to make his 50th Ulster appearance in their Guinness PRO14 match against Cardiff Blues at Rodney Parade on Monday (kick-off 6pm).
The 27-year-old Ballymena man made his Ulster debut against the Toyota Cheetahs in September 2017, and has shown some excellent recent form when collecting the player-of-the-match award in the season opener against Benetton Rugby.
Rea will start at blindside flanker, with Ireland international Jordi Murphy being retained at openside flanker and Nick Timoney coming in to start at number 8.
Former Ireland Under-20 hooker Adam McBurney will make his first start this season and is joined in the front row by Eric O’Sullivan, who scored his first Ulster try against the Dragons last week, and Martin Moore.
Alan O’Connor, another of last Sunday’s try scorers, retains his starting berth in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell, who is handed his first start of the season.
Billy Burns will make his return from a calf injury to captain the Ulstermen from out-half. His half-back partner is John Cooney, who has been released from Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations squad.
Burns is one of four changes to the back-line, with Stuart McCloskey also released from international duty to start in midfield alongside 21-year-old talent Stewart Moore.
Michael Lowry slots back in at full-back, forming a potent back-three with Louis Ludik, the scorer of two tries last time out, and the returning Craig Gilroy.
In another welcome boost for Dan McFarland’s men, Luke Marshall is poised to make his comeback off the bench. He has not played since last February’s home win over the Cheetahs.
Alby Mathewson and Academy back-three prospect Ethan McIlroy (20) will cover the back-line along with Marshall. John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Ross Kane, Sam Carter and Sean Reidy provide the forward options in reserve.
Speaking ahead of the game, winger Ludik said: “I think it will be the first time in 15 or 16 years that I’m going to be playing on a Monday so it’s going to be very odd, I think at school we played a bit on Monday nights but it’s strange times.
“Cardiff have got a really exciting side and it will be a massive challenge. In such a short season every game is vital.
“There is going to be points difference and whatever points you can pick up along the way is vital especially when these bonus points are up for grabs.
“One slip up can cost you heavily and we just have to do our best wherever we go and whoever we play, we just have to grab the points that are on offer.”
ULSTER (v Cardiff Blues): Michael Lowry; Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Stuart McCloskey, Louis Ludik; Billy Burns (capt), John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Adam McBurney, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Ross Kane, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy.