Preview: Ulster v Zebre

Date published: December 19 2013

Centre Paddy Wallace will play for Ulster for the first time in nine months in Friday's clash against Zebre at Ravenhill.

Centre Paddy Wallace will play for Ulster for the first time in nine months in Friday's clash against Zebre at Ravenhill.

Wallace, who has made a record 188 appearances for Ulster, suffered an ACL injury against Glasgow in February. He returns to the senior team following two games for the Ulster Ravens in the British and Irish Cup.

He starts at inside-centre and is one of nine personnel and three positional switches to the side that beat Treviso last weekend.

Ricky Andrew starts at full-back with Jared Payne moving to outside centre. Craig Gilroy switches flanks and starts on the left wing with Michael Allen coming in on the right.

Ruan Pienaar continues at scrum-half with James McKinney starting at fly-half.

There is a whole new front row, with Callum Black replacing Tom Court at loosehead, Niall Annett selected at hooker and Ricky Lutton named at tighthead.

Lewis Stevenson has recovered from the medial ligament injury he picked up last month and joins captain Johann Muller in the second row.

With Roger Wilson sustaining a mild ankle injury last weekend, Robbie Diack moves to number eight, with Sean Doyle keeping his place at openside and Mike McComish coming in at blindside.

Adam Macklin is named as a replacement and is also in line to make his return to first team action having suffered an ACL injury last season.

Declan Fitzpatrick was unavailable for selection as he is suffering from a virus.

Wallace is excited about his impending comeback.

“My motivation is through the roof,” he said.

“I hope that I can bring a few players along with me because I am so pumped up to play again at Ravenhill.

So many people have supported me through a hard time such as the medical staff and the strength and conditioning coaches and I want to do their support justice.”

Meanwhile, Zebre welcome back full-back Dion Berryman and flanker Filippo Ferrarini, who have recovered from injuries to take their respective places in the starting line-up.

Form: Ulster's only loss in their last 11 fixtures in all tournaments was a 17-9 defeat at the Scarlets in the RaboDirect PRO12 on November 2. And the Ulstermen have lost just once at home since early February: 12-13 to Glasgow Warriors in round 2 of the RaboDirect PRO12. The omens are not good for Zebre either – Ulster have met Italian opposition on 24 previous occasions in all competitions and lost only once: 12-23 at home to Treviso in October 2011. Zebre meanwhile, are winless in their last ten contests in all tournaments since beating Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park in round 3 of the PRO12, although they did draw 16-16 with Scarlets in Parma on October 25. The two sides have met on three previous occasions with Ulster victorious in each instance.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Ricky Andrew, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Michael Allen, 10 James McKinney, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Sean Doyle, 6 Mike McComish, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 Ricky Lutton, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Tom Court, 18 Adam Macklin, 19 Neil McComb, 20 Conor Joyce, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Peter Nelson, 23 David McIlwaine

Zebre: 15 Dion Berryman, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Tommaso Iannone, 12 Roberto Quartaroli, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Gugliemo Palazzani, 8 Nicola Cattina, 7 Filippo Ferrarini, 6 Filippo Cristiano, 5 Marco Bortolami (c), 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Andrea de Marchi, 2 Andrea Manici, 1 Dario Chistolini.
Replacements: 16 Tommaso D'apice, 17 Matias Aaguero, 18 Luca Redofini, 19 Michael van Vuren, 20 Emiliano Caffini, 21 Alberto Chillon, 22 Kameli Ratuvou, 23 Brendon Leonard

Date: Friday, December 20
Kick-off: 19:05 GMT
Venue: Ravenhill
Referee: Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Dermot Blake (Ireland)
Television match official: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
Assessor: Jack Young (Ireland)