Rob Herring will make his 100th appearance for Ulster as boss Les Kiss welcomes back some big names to his side for Friday’s visit of Scarlets.
Herring, who joined the province four years ago and is now sharing the club captaincy with Andrew Trimble, will be joined in the matchday 23 by returning Ireland trio Craig Gilroy, Iain Henderson and Paddy Jackson, along with All Black Charles Piutau.
There are eight new faces in the starting XV with Callum Black, Pete Browne, Alan O’Connor and Robbie Diack bolstering the pack, while Gilroy, Jackson, Piutau and Stuart McCloskey will join an already potent backline.
Herring, a try scorer in each of Ulster’s last three games, will be joined in the front-row by Black and Rodney Ah You.
Browne and O’Connor form a new second-row partnership, with Clive Ross and Sean Reidy retaining their places on the side of the scrum and Diack packing down at number eight.
Jackson will combine with Ruan Pienaar at half-back, while McCloskey and Stuart Olding are named in midfield. Louis Ludik switches from full-back to left wing, with Gilroy and Piutau completing the line-up.
Andy Warwick could earn his 50th Ulster cap after being named among the replacements. Henderson will be a robust option for Kiss to spring from the bench, with John Andrew, Academy prop Ross Kane and Franco van der Merwe listed as the other forward replacements.
Angus Lloyd is still in line to make his first competitive appearance after being an unused replacement last week against Treviso. Luke Marshall and Rob Lyttle are the other backline players in the 23.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has made changes to the side that suffered defeat to Edinburgh at Murrayfield last week as he hopes to see his side claim a first scalp of the new season.
In the backline Hadleigh Parkes comes in to partner Jonathan Davies in midfield whilst Liam Williams moves to the wing with Aled Thomas coming in at full-back.
The front five remains unchanged from last week’s starting line-up whilst Lewis Rawlins returns to the side after missing out last week due to illness. He partners James Davies and John Barclay in the back-row.
Pivac said: “It doesn’t get any easier but we take confidence from the fact that we had a great performance out there last year so we know within the group of players we have here that it can be done. Having said that it’s a new season, things change and that victory doesn’t really count for too much.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough challenge. We had to play our best game out there last year to get the win. We threw the kitchen sink at each other and it was a great victory for us.”
Form: Ulster Rugby’s solitary defeat in their last seven Guinness PRO12 matches was to Leinster at the RDS Arena in last season’s semi-final. The last time the Ulstermen started a PRO12 campaign with three straight victories was in season 2012/13, where they did not lose their first match until round 12. Ulster have lost just once at Kingspan Stadium since early January: 20-21 to Scarlets on 21 February. Scarlets have won only one of their last six Guinness PRO12 fixtures: over Newport Gwent Dragons on “Judgement Day” in April. Scarlets only victory in their last twelve visits to an Irish province in any tournament was in Belfast in February. Scarlets won both matches against Ulster in the Guinness PRO12 last season but have never won three in a row against the Irish province.
Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Stuart Olding, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Louis Ludik, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Alan O’Connor, 4 Pete Browne, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 Rob Herring (c), 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Ross Kane, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Angus Lloyd, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Rob Lyttle
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 John Barclay, 7 James Davies, 6 Lewis Rawlins, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Ken Owens (c), 1 Wyn Jones
Replacements: 16 Ryan Elias, 17 Luke Garrett, 18 Peter Edwards, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Scott Williams, 23 Steff Hughes
Date: Friday, September 16
Venue: Kingspan Park
Kick-off: 19:05 BST (18:05 GMT)
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Paul Haycock (Ireland)
TMO: Craig Sampson (Scotland)