O'Connor returns from wilderness as Kiss shuffles pack
After injuries to four starters against Edinburgh last time out decimated his plans, Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss has made seven changes to his side to take on Toulouse at the Kingspan Stadium in the Champions Cup this evening (7.45pm).
With Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy, Darren Cave and Peter Nelson added to an absentee list that already included Irish internationals Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne and Stuart Olding, the province's depth will receive a real test tonight.
Tuohy and Henderson's unavailability has left the hosts short of options in the second row and Alan O'Connor comes into the side alongside Franco van der Merwe for his first start in 11 months.
The Leinster native impressed last season but was not seen beyond Ballymena and the 'A' side this campaign until his appearance from the bench last week.
Kiss is, however, able to call on a pair of reinforcements in the shape of Rory Best and Craig Gilroy.
Captain Best, who was rested in the win over Alan Solomons' side, returns to the front-row with previous hooker and skipper Rob Herring dropping onto the replacements bench.
Gilroy, the other Irish international who was given a breather seven days ago, is also back in the fold, taking the place of Rory Scholes, who is on the bench after scoring what turned out to be the decisive try in the 14-7 victory last time out.
Andrew Trimble is on the opposite wing while Louis Ludik rounds out the back-three in the No.15 jersey with last week's starter Nelson having his season ended by a dislocated foot.
After starting the campaign together in midfield, and ending the Edinburgh game in tandem following the loss of Cave, Luke Marshall and Stuart McCloskey are once again Kiss' centre pairing.
There is continuity at half-back where Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar are again selected at out-half and scrum-half respectively with Ian Humphreys and Paul Marshall providing cover.
Joining Best in the front-row will be Kyle McCall, looking to maintain his strong run of form on the big stage up against the vastly experienced Census Johnston, though Kiss does make a change at tight-head.
Ricky Lutton got the nod against Edinburgh and impressed but the No.3 jersey is returned to Wiehahn Herbst.
Lutton takes his place back on the bench while Andy Warwick is poised to cover McCall.
The back-row sees Kiss stick with the tried and tested of Nick Williams at the base and Chris Henry at openside but the injury to Henderson necessitates a change in the No.6 jersey.
While Clive Ross impressed in an extended role off the bench last week, he stays among the replacements with Robbie Diack selected.
The Irish-capped South African has passed his return to play protocols after the knock to the head he picked up against Leinster two weeks ago.
After missing out on the eve of the game last week thanks to a late back spasm, Roger Wilson is also held in reserve among the replacements.
The other contest in Pool 1 this weekend sees Saracens travel to Oyonnax on Sunday (1pm).
It is the first home game in Europe's top competition for the Champions Cup debutants, who are bottom of the Top 14, after their hosting of Ulster was postponed last month.
The side, who sacked head coach Oliver Azam and replaced him with former scrum-half Johann Authier early this season, are looking to derail a Saracens side that seem bound for the competition's quarter-finals for the fifth year in succession.
Having beaten Toulouse in their first game, and taken a try-bonus from Kingspan last month, Mark McCall's side are one of just four teams boasting a two from two record.