Ulster are back after a three week hiatus and welcome the Southern Kings to Kingspan Stadium as the race for the play off spots heats up.

The return to fitness of Marcell Coetzee as the Springbok international starts is a boost, in a bid to get some minutes under the belt ahead of next week’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter final.

John Cooney is the only international player that will feature for Ulster, with Jordi Murphy, Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale rested and Iain Henderson recovering from injury.

Eric O’Sullivan is also rested after his man of the match performance away at the Dragons three weeks ago and is replaced by Andrew Warwick. Rob Herring and Marty Moore complete the front row. Alan O’Connor and Ian Nagle form the second row with Kieran Treadwell named on the bench. Marcell Coeztee is welcomed back to the starting team at eight and is flanked by Matthew Rea and Nick Timoney.

It’s a really strong back line named despite missing John Cooney, Jacob Stockdale and Will Addison. Dave Shanahan and Billy Burns are the half backs with the reliable centre partnership of Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave outside them. There’s plenty of pace on the wings in the shape of Rob Lyttle and Robert Baloucoune and I’d be surprised if we don’t see both of them on the score sheet tomorrow. Louis Ludik is Ulster’s full back.

The Southern Kings have claimed two notable scalps this season against Glasgow and Edinburgh and their tally of 12 bonus points sees them sitting above Dragons in sixth place in Conference B. While they are yet to win away in the league since being accepted into it in 2017, results this season have improved.

Last week they were edged out 26-19 by Cardiff Blues with Masixole Banda securing a late bonus point. While 40 and 50 point drubbings followed on trips to Munster and Leinster respectively, three tries in the last ten minutes against Cheetahs nearly won the game for them, falling short in the end.

They’re a team for the late scores with no less than five of their tries coming in the closing minutes of matches, however most of them were to secure a losing bonus point when the match was already won for the opposition. Predictably, games involving them are open affairs with plenty of tries and not much defending being done. This should play into Ulster’s hands and they will be favourites to get the try bonus point win.

Ulster were unable to get the bonus point in the last meeting between these sides in September. Ulster led 9-7 at the break  Try-less until the 60th minute, Marcell Coetzee, Angus Kernohan and Angus Curtis all crossed but the elusive try bonus point eluded them. Ulster were extremely frustrated with the officiating that day with Southern Kings giving away 21 penalties which halted momentum yet only picked up one yellow card. With home advantage this time around, I expect the referee to be a lot less reluctant to reach for a card if the Kings’ ill discipline persists.

I’ve noted in the past about the talent of Masixole Banda however he only starts on the bench tomorrow. Scrum half, Stefan Ungerer, is nippy around the edges of the ruck and will exploit any space left. The former Sharks player scored two tries against Leinster before Christmas and was a bright spark as the Kings were outscored six tries to five in a 38-31 loss.

The FRU predicts: With Edinburgh taking on Leinster, Scarlets at Cardiff and Connacht hosting Benetton, it has the possibility of being a great weekend for Ulster if results go their way. Dan McFarland’s men should win this by a comfortable margin, Ulster by 30+.

Ulster Southern Kings
Louis Ludik 15 Ulrich Beyers
Robert Baloucoune 14 Yaw Penxe
Darren Cave 13 Meli Rokoua
Stuart McCloskey 12 Tertius Kruger
Rob Lyttle 11 Bjorn Basson
Billy Burns 10 Bader Pretorious
Dave Shanahan 9 Stefan Ungerer
Andrew Warwick 1 Alulutho Tshakweni
Rob Herring 2 Michael Willemse
Marty Moore 3 De-Jay Terblanche
Alan O’Connor 4 Andries Van Schalkwyk
Ian Nagle 5 John-Charles Astle
Matthew Rea 6 Henry Brown
Nick Timoney 7 Martinus Burger
Marcell Coetzee 8 Ruaan Lerm
John Andrew 16 Alandre Van Rooyen
Wiehahn Herbst 17 Schalk Ferreira
Tom O’Toole 18 Lupumlo Mguca
Kieran Treadwell 19 Stephan Greef
Clive Ross 20 Andisa Ntsila
John Cooney 21 Rudi Van Rooyen
Michael Lowry 22 Masixole Banda
Angus Kernohan 23 Harlon Klaasen

#SUFTUM