Ulster are strengthened by a number of Ireland internationals for the visit of Munster to Kingspan Stadium in the Guinness PRO14 on Saturday evening (kick-off 5.15pm).
Rested due to the IRFU Player Management Programme last week, Jacob Stockdale, Stuart McCloskey, Billy Burns and Rob Herring are all back on provincial duty for Ulster’s first outing of the New Year.
There are 11 changes to the side that won 32-19 at Connacht, with Burns and the ever-influential John Cooney leading the back-line. McCloskey rejoins James Hume in midfield, and Stockdale, Ethan McIlroy and Matt Faddes make up the back-three.
Kieran Treadwell, who combines with captain Sam Carter in the second row, is the only player retained in the tight five. Herring will pack down with Eric O’Sullivan and Martin Moore in the front row.
20-year-old Academy ace David McCann will make his first senior start for Ulster at openside flanker, with the other back row berths filled by Matthew Rea, a lively replacement last Sunday, and number 8 Nick Timoney, one of the try scorers in Galway.
Academy prop Callum Reid, another of Ulster’s impressive Ireland Under-20 internationals of recent years, could make his senior debut as a replacement. He turns 22 next Wednesday.
Adam McBurney, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor and the fit-again Marcell Coetzee are the other forward options on the bench, while Academy scrum half Nathan Doak is another potential debutant.
Dan McFarland’s selected matchday 23 is completed by Ian Madigan, Ulster’s goal-kicking hero against Connacht, and Ben Moxham who came off the bench to win his first Ulster cap at the Sportsground last time out.
Head coach McFarland said of Munster: “It was really impressive the manner of their victory (in Clermont). Munster are never going to stop fighting, so it wouldn’t have mattered what the score was after 30 or 40 minutes.
“Their ability to score points as the game went on and gradually build pressure got them (Clermont) worried. The variety (in attack) in their game is impressive – that is across the board, they are not relying on any one player.
“A lot of their forwards are looking like real ball players. They’re attacking as well as any team in the league at the moment.”
ULSTER (v Munster): Jacob Stockdale; Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter (capt), Matthew Rea, David McCann, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Marcell Coetzee, Nathan Doak, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.