Captain Johann Muller, second row partner Dan Tuohy and exciting young centre Luke Marshall are set to return to action on Friday night at Ravenhill where Ulster host Ospreys in the RaboDirect PRO12 (7.05pm).
Muller has just agreed a one-year contract extension which will keep him in Ulster colours until 2014 and on Friday he hopes to clock up appearance number 53.
The South African said: “We have done brilliantly so far this season but the next eight to 12 weeks is obviously going to define the season.”
But for injury, Tuohy and Marshall might well have been at Carton House, preparing for Ireland’s all-important Six Nations game against England on Sunday afternoon rather than working out with Ulster at Newforge ahead of the Ospreys clash.
But the pairing of this season’s runaway leaders with last year’s PRO12 champions provides the returning trio with the perfect stage on which to bed themselves back in.
Marshall, 21, is upbeat about that. When he broke his finger in Ulster’s most recent PRO12 outing — their 41-17 rout of second-placed Scarlets in early January — the prognosis was that he would be out for up to six weeks. He has made it in five.
Having been called up ahead of November’s Test matches against South Africa and Argentina at the Aviva Stadium, either side of the non-cap game with the Fijis at Thomond Park, he knows he is very much in the international frame.
Marshall was one of four newcomers drafted in by Declan Kidney prior to the Guinness Series, the others having been Richard Strauss, David Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson.
Strauss, Kilcoyne and Henderson were capped in November and barring disaster it is a matter of when rather than if Marshall joins them as a full international.
Paddy Wallace is 33 while Gordon D’Arcy also reaches his 33rd birthday this Sunday.
Marshall is philosophical about the delay owing to his broken finger.
“It’s one of those things that comes from playing this game; you get injuries and you just have to accept that,” he said.
“It’s a matter of trying to get back as quickly as possible. I wasn’t expecting to be back this soon. But the injury feels good.”
Right now his aim is a couple of decent PRO12 games to remind Kidney and co that he has recovered.
He added: “For now I’ll just focus on playing for Ulster. The next few games are very important for us. We’ve had this break, but we don’t want to lose our momentum so it’s important that we keep our form going in the Rabo and then take it into the Heineken Cup. The quarter-final against Saracens is going to be a huge game and you wouldn’t want to being going into that after a slump.
“Winning and holding onto our lead at the top of the league table is important.”