Successive bonus point wins have moved Ulster up to third place in the RaboDirect PRO12, and another positive result at Murrayfield will keep them in the play-off picture as their big European date with Saracens looms large on the horizon.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, March 21
EDINBURGH (8th) v ULSTER (3rd), Murrayfield, 7.45pm (live BBC Radio Ulster/BBC Sport NI Website)
Team News: Stephen Ferris will start for Ulster against Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Friday night as one of six changes to the team that beat the Scarlets last weekend.
Ferris played 20 minutes against the Welsh region and is selected at blindside flanker this week as he continues his phased return to play from the ankle injury he suffered in November 2012.
Jared Payne will start at full-back with Tommy Bowe, who has scored three tries in two matches since his own return from injury, picked on the right wing.
Craig Gilroy is named on the left wing in place of Rory Scholes, with Darren Cave lining out at outside centre alongside Luke Marshall who returns to the team having recovered from a head injury.
Paddy Jackson is partnered at half-back by Michael Heaney who starts in place of the injured Ruan Pienaar.
Tom Court, Rob Herring and John Afoa combine in the province’s front row, with captain Johann Muller joined in the second row by Iain Henderson, who was a second half replacement for Ireland against France.
Ferris is joined in the back row by Roger Wilson who moves from blindside flanker to number 8, with Sean Doyle continuing at openside.
Ireland lock Dan Tuohy has recovered from the broken arm that he sustained playing against Wales last month, and will feature on the bench at Murrayfield.
Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy loosehead prop Andrew Warwick is also named as a replacement. The 23-year-old will make his first appearance for Ulster if called upon.
Joining Tuohy and Warwick on the bench are forwards Niall Annett, Ricky Lutton, Nick Williams and Robbie Diack and backs Paul Marshall and Stuart McCloskey.
The round 17 fixture is not being shown on TV, but live radio coverage will be available via BBC Radio Ulster and the BBC Sport Northern Ireland website.
Meanwhile, Edinburgh boss Alan Solomons has made three personnel changes to the team to face Ulster at Murrayfield.
The Scottish club are without rested international trio David Denton, Matt Scott and Greig Laidlaw, but welcome the inclusion of props Willem Nel and Alasdair Dickinson – the latter returning from Scotland’s Six Nations campaign – in an otherwise unchanged forward pack.
The third personnel change sees Tom Brown take his place on the left wing having recovered from the thigh strain that kept him out of the Ospreys match.
His inclusion allows Jack Cuthbert to return to his favoured full-back position, while trialist Carl Bezuidenhout will orchestrate the back-line from out-half.
The backs division is completed by scrum half Grayson Hart, who scored a brace in his last appearance, centres Andries Strauss and Sam Beard – another scorer last time out – and winger Dougie Fife, who makes his first outing as a senior international after his Scotland debut last weekend.
The changes mean Wicus Blaauw, Harry Leonard and elite development prop Ewan McQuillin, who could make his debut if brought into the fray, are selected on the bench, while Nick De Luca begins his return from a head knock as a replacement.
EDINBURGH: Jack Cuthbert; Dougie Fife, Sam Beard, Andries Strauss, Tom Brown; Carl Bezuidenhout, Grayson Hart; Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Izak van der Westhuizen, Mike Coman (capt), Roddy Grant, Cornell du Preez.
Replacements: James Hilterbrand, Wicus Blaauw, Ewan McQuillin, Ollie Atkins, Tomas Leonardi, Sean Kennedy, Harry Leonard, Nick De Luca.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Michael Heaney; Tom Court, Rob Herring, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Iain Henderson, Stephen Ferris, Sean Doyle, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Andrew Warwick, Ricky Lutton, Dan Tuohy, Nick Williams, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Stuart McCloskey.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Neil Paterson, Bob Nevins (both Scotland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Edinburgh to win: 11/4; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 1/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Craig Gilroy (Ulster) – “It’s good to see the Ulster boys do well (with Ireland), but at the same time it’s mixed emotions.
“It can be hurtful not to be involved having been involved before but that is just fuel to the fire to work harder and become a better player.
“There are two away games (coming up against Edinburgh and Cardiff) and we need a huge performance in both. I have to try do the best I can to be involved in the big games (like the upcoming European quarter-final against Saracens).
“Munster, a couple of years ago, was a great day and I remember it like it was like yesterday.
“I have the desire to get there and that is what you play for, there is more competition and you can either let it beat you or it can make you a better player and you have to do whatever it takes to get your spot.
“Last time I played (at Murrayfield) it was Ireland against Scotland in the Six Nations and I got a try.
“It’s a fantastic stadium, and it’s a fixture that we should be looking to do well in. We’ve been successful the time I’ve been there with Ulster and hopefully it will be the same this weekend.”
Alan Solomons (Edinburgh) – “Ulster are probably one of the top three or four teams in Europe, there’s no question about that.
“It’s a great challenge for us. We feel that, as a group, we have improved as the season has gone on, and look forward to the kind of challenges presented by the top teams.
“We looked forward to the Ospreys and got the result (a 31-25 win) because we delivered a good performance.
“The same thing applies to this game, however I would say that Ulster are stronger than the Ospreys and will therefore require an even better performance from the players.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Edinburgh – Points: Greig Laidlaw 62; Tries: Dougie Fife 4; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 102; Tries: Darren Cave, Tommy Bowe 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Friday, October 22, 2010 – Edinburgh 21 Ulster 16, Murrayfield
Friday, January 6, 2012 – Edinburgh 20 Ulster 42, Murrayfield
Friday, March 2, 2012 – Ulster 38 Edinburgh 16, Ravenhill
Friday, November 2, 2012 – Ulster 45 Edinburgh 20, Ravenhill
Friday, March 22, 2013 – Edinburgh 14 Ulster 8, Murrayfield
Friday, November 22, 2013 – Ulster 41 Edinburgh 17, Ravenhill
– Edinburgh’s 31-25 victory over the Ospreys at Meggetland in round 16 ended a three-match losing run
– Edinburgh have won four of their last five RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures at Murrayfield
– The Scotsmen have won their last three home games against Irish provinces in all competitions
– Ulster have won their last seven matches in all tournaments since their loss to Leinster at the RDS in round 11 of the PRO12
– Ulster have secured bonus point victories in their last two PRO12 games, over the Dragons and Scarlets
– The last four matches between the two sides in the PRO12 have all been won by the home side on the day, while the Ulstermen’s most recent victory at Edinburgh came in January 2012