Jared Payne will make his Ulster debut in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 game versus Cardiff at Ravenhill (kick off 7.05pm).
The New Zealander will start at fullback in place of Adam D’Arcy who drops to the bench. The backline is otherwise unchanged from the side that played Aironi on Saturday.
There are three personnel changes up front with Declan Fitzpatrick is named at loosehead prop with Paddy McAllister named among the replacements. Andi Kyriacou and Jerry Cronin complete the front row.
Lewis Stevenson comes in to partner Dan Tuohy in the second row, with Neil McComb providing positional cover on the bench. In the back row, Robbie Diack is named at number 8 meaning Chris Henry moves round to the openside flanker berth.
Mike McComish may make his first competitive appearance for Ulster from the bench, having tasted some action in pre-season.
With Cardiff notching two bonus point wins in the opening two rounds, this is expected to be Ulster’s toughest test yet this season. Ulster too are in good form, especially at home, where they have won all eight of their games in 2011.
Tickets are still available for this game and can be bought online at www.ulsterrugby.com or by calling 02890493222 (option 2).
Ulster (15-9): Jared Payne; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Ian Whitten; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; (1-8): Declan Fitzpatrick, Andi Kyriacou, Jerry Cronin, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack; Replacements (16-23): Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Ian Porter, Paddy Jackson, Adam D’Arcy.
Payne must have obviously settled in well to be starting first up and I’ll definately be looking forward to see how he performs. Luke Marshall makes way in the squad for the Kiwi full back with D’Arcy dropping to the bench as back three cover.
Interesting to see Stevenson get the nod in second row alongside Tuohy in an area that is going to be particularly competitive. Last season’s most consistent performer, Tim Barker, drops out of the squad with McComb grabbing a bench spot.
I guess it’s a combination of Faloon being rested and McLaughlin wanting to put out a big back row that see’s Henry move to 7 and Diack starting at 8 and I’m sure Robbie will be keen to make the most of the opportunity having been sidelined for a while. McComish has recovered from some pre-season niggles and will be looking for his first competitive run from the bench.
Don’t know which way this one will go. I expect Ulster to win but I can’t decide if it will be tight or a bit of a romp. Cardiff are unbeaten but haven’t come up against particularly strong sides so far so I’m going to go for a surprising winning bonus for a Payne inspired Ulster!