Whilst all Irish eyes will understandably be on the Ireland-Wales game on Saturday morning, Friday sees another round in the RaboDirect PRO 12 competition.
Ulster have been boosted by the inclusion of Ian Humphreys, Darren Cave and Jared Payne to the starting XV for Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 game against Treviso at Ravenhill (kick off 7.05pm).
The backline trio have overcome recent injuries with Humphreys (shoulder) replacing Paddy Jackson at out half and Cave replacing Luke Marshall in the centre. Cave is named at outside centre so Nevin Spence will move inside to wear the no.12 shirt.
Payne has shaken off a dead leg and will make only his third appearance for the Province at fullback in place of Adam D’Arcy.
Head Coach Brian McLaughlin has also made three personnel changes up front. Andi Kyriacou comes in for Nigel Brady at hooker after starting from the bench in last week’s defeat to the Dragons. Tim Barker gets a chance to impress in the second row alongside Dan Tuohy, with Lewis Stevenson named among the replacements.
The other change in the pack will see Mike McComish make his first competitive start for the Province as he is named at openside flanker instead of Willie Faloon. Kyle McCall is among the replacements for the second consecutive week and could make his debut if selected.
McLaughlin feels the returning players will make a difference in both attack and defence:
“To have the three guys back is fantastic. Ian will give us a lot of organisation and Darren is a great communicator and a great defender. To have Jared back in there to add solidity at the back and a bit of spice in attack is very important for us as well.
“Over the last few weeks we’ve been very disappointed. Last season and early this season our youth players have really done us proud but I think against the Ospreys and the Dragons it was maybe just a bridge too far. There is no doubt the young players are a talented bunch and the last few weeks has been a great learning experience for them.”
He feels the time is right to rotate a few players up front as well:
“Mike McComish has been training hard and he played very well for his club Ballymena last week and we feel he deserves a chance. There is nothing really between Lewis and Tim, they’re both great workhorses. Lewis has been excellent in the last few games but Tim did brilliantly for us last season so it’s a matter of rotation.
“We know the Italian teams are very physical. This season they’ve added a lot of attacking rugby to their game and they are playing a nice brand and scoring tries.. we will have to be at our best there’s no doubt about that. But we’re delighted to be back in front of our home fans at Ravenhill and we’re hopeful we can return to winning ways.”
Ulster Rugby also has a number of great value family and student ticket packages available for the game. Details can be found online at www.ulsterrugby.com or by calling the Ravenhill Ticket Office on 02890493222 (option 2).
Ulster (15-9): J Payne; C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten; I Humphreys, P Marshall;
(1-8): D Fitzpatrick, A Kyriacou, J Cronin, T Barker, D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, M McComish, C Henry (c);
Replacements (16-23): N Brady, K McCall, A Macklin, L Stevenson, R Diack, I Porter, P Jackson, A D’Arcy