Five changes as Ulster face Zebre
Ulster has made five changes for their PRO12 clash with Zebre on Sunday.
Friday, 16 November 2012
Michael Heaney, Niall O'Connor and Michael Allen all start at the back, and will join forwards Robbie Diack and Nick Williams.
Top of the table Ulster will also have the experience of Tom Court and Declan Fitzpatrick to fall back on.
They were released from international duty for Ireland and are named as replacements.
Half backs Heaney and O'Connor will start in place of Paul Marshall and Ruan Pienaar, both of whom are on international duty this weekend.
Jared Payne will play at outside centre alongside Paddy Wallace, after scoring a brace of tries in an impressive performance against Edinburgh at the beginning of November.
He believes Ulster will be targeted by teams following their unbeaten start.
"Every time you come up against a team that is unbeaten, you want to be the team to knock them off," said Payne.
"Slightly weaker team are going to have to take more chances to do that. Better teams will be more prepared - it will be a challenge but that is part and parcel of it, you would rather be the team everyone wants to knock off rather than the team down at the bottom.
"It will be good for us."
After returning from an ankle injury, Allen will return to the team on the right wing.
His inclusion there results in Chris Cochrane switching to the left flank in place of Ireland XV player Craig Gilroy. Academy fullback Ricky Andrew will earn his second start.
Nigel Brady will remain as captain and will be joined in the front row by Callum Black and John Afoa.
Robbie Diack - usually a back row player - will come into the second row after Lewis Stevenson's injury and is partnered by Neil McComb.
The back row sees Nick Williams moving into the first XV at blindside flanker, while Mike McComish and Roger Wilson retain their places at openside and number eight respectively.
Court and Fitzpatrick are joined on the bench by hooker Rob Herring, Academy second row James Simpson and Ali Birch, who is yet to play this season. The backline replacements are all products of the Ulster Academy; Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding and Peter Nelson.
This fixture is the result of a postponement because of the death of Ulster player Nevin Spence, and two members of his family in September.
The team will remain in Italy until next weekend's clash with Benetton Treviso. They will return to Belfast next Saturday.
Team: R Andrew; M Allen, J Payne, P Wallace, C Cochrane; N O'Connor, M Heaney,
C Black, N Brady (capt), J Afoa, R Diack, N McComb, N Williams, M McComish, R Wilson.
Replacements: R Herring, T Court, D Fitzpatrick, J Simpson, A Birch, B McIlroy, S Olding, P Nelson.