Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made just one change to the starting XV for this Sunday’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against the Ospreys at Liberty Stadium (kick off 4.30pm).
Luke Marshall has been called in to replace injured centre Darren Cave, who has been rested following a recurrence of a hamstring injury which plagued him for most of last season. Marshall and Nevin Spence formed an impressive partnership last season with Cave out injured and Paddy Wallace on international duty, so it should cause minimal disruption to the Ulster midfield.
Ulster are boosted by the inclusion of Ian Humphreys who has been named at flyhalf after shaking off a shoulder injury picked up in the win over Cardiff last week. The side is again led by captain Chris Henry at openside flanker, as McLaughlin has stuck with the forwards that dominated up front against Cardiff.
A rib injury has ruled out reserve scrumhalf Ian Porter, whose position on the bench is taken by 19 year old Academy player Blane McIlroy*. The only other change to the squad from Cardiff is the inclusion of Willie Faloon who will provide back row cover instead of Mike McComish.
Both sides go into the game unbeaten and are locked on 12 league points, just one behind leaders Munster. The Ulstermen's only defeat in their last nine matches against Welsh opponents was in the equivalent game at Liberty Stadium last season when they narrowly lost 23-22.
McLaughlin is looking forward to the Ospreys challenge: "They have won all their games so far this season too so it will be another tough game for us. If we play as well as we have been I see no reason why we can't get another win and that would put us in a really strong position. We lost by a point to them last season so there's no doubt it will be another big challenge for us."
Ospreys Director of Coaching Scott Johnson is complimentary of the squad Ulster have amassed this season: “I think they are one of the teams to beat," he said. "There's no doubt about it: they have bought well and they have got some good young talent coming through to support that.”
Ulster (15-9): J Payne; C Gilroy, N Spence, L Marshall, I Whitten; I Humphreys, P Marshall;
(1-8): D Fitzpatrick, A Kyriacou, J Cronin, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, C Henry, R Diack;
Replacements (16-23): N Brady, P McAllister, A Macklin, T Barker, W Faloon, B McIlroy, P Jackson, A D’Arcy
Unavailable due to injury: Callum Black (neck), Darren Cave (hamstring), Ian Porter (ribs)
Date of Birth: 04/12/91
Club: Ballymena RFC
Representative Hons: Ireland U20