19-year-old scrum half Nathan Doak will make his first competitive start for Ulster when they take on Zebre at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on Saturday (kick-off 6.15pm local time/5.15pm Irish time).
Doak, who scored his first senior try against Glasgow Warriors last Friday, joins Billy Burns at half-back for the province’s first road trip in the United Rugby Championship.
James Hume is paired with Stewart Moore in midfield, Ethan McIlroy switches to the left wing, with Craig Gilroy coming in to take up the right wing position and Will Addison starting at full-back.
It is all-change in the front row with Eric O’Sullivan and Tom O’Toole coming in to prop on either side of Rob Herring, who will be just one appearance away from the 200-cap milestone when he takes the pitch in Parma.
Alan O’Connor will captain the Ulstermen this week, packing down alongside newcomer Mick Kearney in the second row. Australian Sam Carter drops to the bench.
Nick Timoney, a try scorer against Glasgow, moves to openside flanker to accommodate David McCann’s inclusion at the base of the scrum. Matthew Rea is the tenth and final change on the blindside.
Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Martin Moore, Carter and Sean Reidy are the forward options from the bench, and David Shanahan, Michael Lowry and Ben Moxham – fresh from Ireland Sevens duty – offer back-line cover.
Speaking about Doak’s development at scrum half, assistant coach Dan Soper said: “He did exceptionally well, didn’t he? He played a lot longer (against Glasgow) than was planned obviously with John Cooney’s injury.
“The thing with Nathan is he’s only a young kid and he’s played very limited senior rugby since school, be it All-Ireland League, be it anything, because of the nature of the world we’ve been living in but he is actually a very old head on young shoulders.
“He has a calmness about him and he’s super competitive. Obviously the environment he grew up in at home with Neil (his dad), he has such a good understanding of the game.
“He has great potential. He is certainly by no means the finished article, he knows that, but he has a great attitude towards getting better.”
ULSTER (v Zebre): Will Addison; Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns, Nathan Doak; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor (capt), Mick Kearney, Matthew Rea, Nick Timoney, David McCann.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Martin Moore, Sam Carter, Sean Reidy, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Ben Moxham.