Ulster are aiming to back up their interprovincial victory over Connacht when they travel to face the Scarlets in the second round of the BKT United Rugby Championship on Saturday (kick-off 1pm).
With their Ireland players involved in the historic series-winning summer tour to New Zealand making a return to the Ulster jersey, a second league win is the target as they come up against former Ulster attack coach Dwayne Peel’s side.
Speaking ahead of the game in Llanelli, which will see the Ulstermen wearing their new 2022/23 alternate kit for the first time, the province’s new defence coach Jonny Bell said: “Scarlets is going to be a different game this week in many ways.
“They are a team that like to play a bit of rugby and, with Dwayne Peel knowing the Ulster squad inside and out, I have no doubt that he’ll have something up his sleeve.
“We need to be on our mettle against a very good side, and it’s going to be a challenge for us defensively, but that’s what we want.”
Making his return from scoring a match-defining try in the final Test against New Zealand, Rob Herring will take his place in the front row alongside Andrew Warwick, with 157 Ulster caps to his name, and Martin Moore.
Ulster head coach Dan McFarland described tighthead Moore as ‘one of the top scrummagers around in Ireland’ during last week’s post-match media.
Joining captain Alan O’Connor, in the engine room is Kieran Treadwell, who will be looking to bring what he has learnt in the green jersey over the summer months onto the pitch in this year’s URC campaign.
Brothers Matthew and Marcus Rea retain their starting spots in the back row, and will play alongside the returning Nick Timoney, who has impressed on an international stage since scoring a try on his Ireland debut against the USA last year.
Ulster Rugby Academy graduate Aaron Sexton will make his first start for the province. The Bangor speedster (22) will have Michael Lowry and Jacob Stockdale for company in the back-three.
Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey, who combined so impressively for the first try last weekend, are retained in midfield, with the back-line led by the familiar pairing of Billy Burns and John Cooney.
Back row Sean Reffell, who joined Ulster during the summer, is set to earn his first cap off the bench. Declan Moore, Eric O’Sullivan, Sam Carter and returning Tom O’Toole complete the forward cover.
Backs David Shanahan, Angus Curtis and Craig Gilroy are also included among the replacements for what Ulster are hoping will be their first league triumph at Parc y Scarlets since December 2012.
ULSTER (v Scarlets): Michael Lowry; Aaron Sexton, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor (capt), Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: Declan Moore, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Sam Carter, Sean Reffell, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, Craig Gilroy.