IRELAND HOOKER RORY Best will make his first appearance of the season as Ulster look to extend their 100% start in Friday evening’s RaboDirect Pro12 interprovincial against Connacht.
On what is bound to be an emotional occasion as Ulster return home to Ravenhill for the first time since the death of centre Nevin Spence, Best returns to a starting XV bulked up considerably with international talent.
Coming in to replace Nigel Brady in the front row, Best lines out for the first time since the Heineken Cup final defeat against Leinster last May.
Fellow Irish internationals Stephen Ferris, Paddy Wallace and Declan Fitzpatrick were all chosen to start. However, since announcing the line-up Ulster have been forced to withdraw Fitzpatrick as the prop aggravated a knee ligament injury in training today.
John Afoa will take the number three shirt in his stead with Adam Macklin joining the replacements bench. The late switch brings the total number of changes to four from the team which beat the Blues 48-19 last weekend, including a recall for captain Johann Muller.
An ankle injury to Michael Allen, scorer of one of seven tries in Cardiff, sees Darren Cave switch to outside centre and Wallace come in to partner him in midfield.
Tommy Bowe, who ran in two tries in seven minutes on his long-awaited return to the province, remains on the right wing and will make his first home start since 2008.
Connacht make the trip north on the back of a brilliant win at home to Leinster last week but still shaken by the news that coach Eric Elwood is to step down at the end of the season after 25 years of involvement with the province.
Elwood makes four changes to the side which blitzed the European champions 34-6 in the Sportsground last week, all of them coming in the pack.
Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughney come in to the front row on either side of Adrian Flavin, while there’s a new-look back row with Dave Gannon and Willie Faloon named as flankers.
With club captain Gavin Duffy out injured, Faloon is given the honour against his home province a week after celebrating his 26th birthday.
Ulster: J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, P Marshall; T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (c), D Tuohy, S Ferris, C Henry, N Williams. Replacements: R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson, M McComish, M Heaney, L Marshall, C Gilroy.
Connacht: R Henshaw; T O’Halloran, E Griffin, D McSharry, F Vainikolo; D Parks, K Marmion; B Wilkinson, A Flavin, R Loughney; M Swift, M McCarthy; D Gannon, W Faloon (c), G Naoupu. Replacements: J Harris-Wright, D Buckley, N White, J Muldoon, J O’Connor, D Moore, M Nikora, M Fifita.