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Jackson's release brings Anscombe strength in depth at a critical time

By Niall Crozier

The inclusion of three players who have already turned out for Ireland in this season's RBS 6 Nations underlines the quality of personnel at Mark Anscombe's disposal this week.

Paddy Jackson, who scored his first senior international try in Ireland's 26-3 win over Wales on Saturday when he joined the fray late on from the bench, has been sent back north by Joe Schmidt in order to get game-time.

Having scored that try against Wales last weekend, Jackson will be hoping to play a big part in the defeat of another Welsh side tonight at Ravenhill where sixth-placed Scarlets provide third-placed Ulster's PRO12 opposition (7.05pm).

He takes his place alongside inside-centre Luke Marshall who started for Ireland against Scotland on February 2.

And Iain Henderson, who was a replacement on that occasion, starts tonight, too.

A week ago against Ospreys, when Marshall and Henderson were on the bench, Ulster made hard work of winning by a 10-7 margin. The line-up Anscombe has chosen for tonight's challenge makes it plain that he is holding nothing back this time.

Even with Rory Best, Chris Henry and Andrew Trimble absent on Ireland duty and Dan Tuohy, having joined fellow-internationals Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris, Stuart Olding and Paddy Wallace on the sidelined-by-injury list, the strength of tonight's line-up confirms the depth of the Ulster squad.

All told there are four changes of personnel plus three positional switches to the side which started against Ospreys.

With Marshall lining out at 12, Darren Cave moves to his favourite position of outside-centre. And as a result of Cave having been named at 13, soon-to-be Irish-qualified New Zealander Jared Payne – who played there last time out – reverts to full-back.

The Kiwi has a great eye for a gap and the acceleration to exploit any such opening.

He glides past opponents and his ability to time his pass perfectly, or offload if tackled, make him a real dangerman.

Payne's selection at full-back means Ricky Andrews wears 23 rather than 15.

The wingers are the same as last week, with Craig Gilroy and Michael Allen retained right and left of Payne in a back three boasting real attacking menace as well as admirable defensive strength and discipline.

Ruan Pienaar continues at scrum-half, renewing his 9-10 partnership with Jackson from whom he has taken over the place-kicking responsibilities.

Freed of that job, Jackson, who turned 22 last month, is able to major in the role of play-maker and with Scarlets' first-choice fly-half Rhys Priestland away with Wales it will fall to Aled Thomas, his 29-year-old understudy, to attempt to shackle the Ulster's seven times-capped Ireland international.

There are no changes to the front row, with Tom Court, Rob Herring and John Afoa retained at one, two and three respectively.

In Rory Best's absence – whether through injury or as a result of international duties – Herring really has stepped up this season, earning himself an invitation to Ireland's pre-Six Nations camp.

Already very much on Joe Schmidt's radar, not least because of his excellent lineout throwing and impressive work-rate around the park, Herring has come on leaps and bounds alongside the vastly experienced Court and Afoa.

With Lewis Stevenson ruled out by the neck injury he picked up against the Ospreys, Henderson partners captain Johann Muller in the engine-room.

Last week's back row starters were Robbie Diack, Sean Doyle and Roger Wilson.

This time it is Nick Williams who wears eight, with Wilson switching to six and Diack dropping to the bench from where he will provide second row cover.

That means Sean Doyle is the only member of the back row who continues in the role he had a week ago.

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