Returning stars hope to inspire victory over Leinster
With the RBS Six Nations now consigned to history and their injury crisis continuing to ease, Ulster will be bringing back much of the cavalry for Saturday evening's clash with table-topping Leinster at the RDS (6.15pm).
Hooker Rory Best and winger Craig Gilroy are back in the fold following their involvement in Ireland's hugely disappointing championship, though centre Luke Marshall is not.
Having suffered two concussions in the space of seven days against France and Italy, he is still sidelined, though Ulster's expectation is that he will be fit to resume in the Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday week.
But four big names returning from injury this weekend are scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and capped back row trio Chris Henry, Iain Henderson and Roger Wilson.
The make-up of the 25-strong extended squad is 15 forwards and 10 backs, which means that in the latter case all of those named will be on duty for with seven back line starters and three replacements, the only decision to be made is who is named on the bench.
The unavailability of 2011 World Cup-winning All Blacks tight-head of John Afoa, who has gone back to New Zealand to be with his wife, Theresa, for the birth of their third child, and the injury enforced absence of his normal replacement Declan Fitzpatrick means Ulster will have to dig into the third layer of their choices for the number three jersey, with 27-year-old Ricky Lutton expected to get the nod.
With almost 100 Irish caps between them, Tom Court and Best – 30 and 67 Tests respectively – will have to look after their rookie colleague whose experience at this level amounts to 22 minutes. Lutton got a six-minute outing against Edinburgh at Ravenhill on November 2, one against Northampton Saints in Belfast on December 15 and 15 against Munster at Thomond Park four days after Christmas.
The only other contender for the post is 21-year-old Hughes Insurance Ulster Academy prop Kyle McCall who has yet to make an appearance at senior level.
With Leinster's front row options including Ireland first-choice loose head Cian Healy and tight head Mike Ross, one suspects Saturday night's hosts will fancy their chances in the scrum.
This will be Ulster's last chance to sort themselves out before facing Mark McCall's Saracens on the European stage and the test awaiting them at the RDS could not be more daunting. They have never won a match there and their most recent success in Dublin was way back in August 1999 when they beat Leinster at Donnybrook.
Extended Ulster squad to face Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12 on Saturday at the RDS (6.15pm):
Forwards (15): Neil McComb, Callum Black, Rory Best, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Dan Tuohy, Lewis Stevenson, Johann Muller, Nick Williams, Rob Herring, Kyle McCall, Ricky Lutton, Tom Court, Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson.
Backs (10): Ruan Pienaar, Jared Payne, Craig Gilroy, Paul Marshall, Peter Nelson, Michael Heaney, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Darren Cave, Andrew Trimble.