Academy back rower James McNabney will pack down at number 8 when Ulster visit Glasgow Warriors in the sixth round of the BKT United Rugby Championship on Saturday.
Will Addison, Luke Marshall and Tom O’Toole are back from injury to start the Scotstoun Stadium encounter (kick-off 7.35pm), while Billy Burns features at out-half for his 100th Ulster appearance.
The 20-year-old McNabney, who has been getting recent game-time with City of Armagh in the Energia All-Ireland League, makes his debut in the pack, and there could be two more debutants for the province on the night.
Recently-arrived two-time Rugby World Cup winner Steven Kitshoff comes straight onto the bench, and the Academy’s Zac Solomon is also standing by to make his senior bow given Ulster have three hookers on the injury list.
Ireland tighthead O’Toole returns from a recent groin operation, joining forces with Tom Stewart and Eric O’Sullivan in a freshened-up front row. In all, there are ten changes to the Ulster side that beat the Emirates Lions 24-17.
Captain Iain Henderson has Kieran Treadwell for company in the second row, and McNabney, Harry Sheridan, a try scorer against Glasgow last season, and Reuben Crothers form a youthful back row combination with an average age of just 21.
Burns and John Cooney, who makes his first start of the season, are reunited at half-back, and the fit-again Marshall also comes in for his first start of the campaign, linking up with James Hume, one of Ulster’s try scorers against the Lions, in midfield.
“Glasgow are a very good side, they have a very different attacking style with very dangerous backs,” commented Ireland international Hume, who has played 81 times for his native Ulster.
“We learned that from the pre-season match we played against them in Cavan, but we are in a good moment, our attacking shape is sharp and our defence is constantly improving.
“We are gaining confidence with each week. This weekend is a challenge but an exciting one that we will take head on.”
On the boost of getting Kitshoff quickly involved, he added: “It’s similar to when Duane Vermeulen and Marcell Coetzee came in, they bring a wealth of experience from different parts of the game.
“To win two World Cups and have that level of experience will be invaluable to the squad. I’m excited to learn off him and see how he carries himself in certain situations. We will thrive off that calmness and experience.”
Will Addison is back from the hamstring strain that kept him out of the last three matches. Joining him in the back-three are wingers Robert Baloucoune and Jacob Stockdale, who comes into this round as the URC’s leading try scorer with five tries.
Head coach Dan McFarland has opted for a 5-3 split on the bench, the most notable inclusion being Springbok star Kitshoff. Also primed for impact roles are Solomon, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Matthew Rea, Dave Shanahan, Jake Flannery and Ben Moxham.
The Ulster players currently unavailable for selection are Callum Reid (back), James McCormick (shoulder), Rob Herring (calf), John Andrew (neck), Marcus Rea (elbow), David McCann (ankle), Sean Reffell (ankle), Nick Timoney (knee), Greg Jones (shoulder), Dave Ewers (hip), Mike Lowry (hip), Ethan McIlroy (facial fracture/concussion), Stewart Moore (hamstring), and Angus Curtis (concussion).
ULSTER (v Glasgow Warriors): Will Addison; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Luke Marshall, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Tom Stewart, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (capt), Harry Sheridan, Reuben Crothers, James McNabney.
Replacements: Zac Solomon, Steven Kitshoff, Martin Moore, Alan O’Connor, Matthew Rea, Dave Shanahan, Jake Flannery, Ben Moxham.