As expected, Ulster coach Matt Williams has indulged only in minor tinkering for tonight’s clash against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park (kick-off 7.05pm, live on BBC Wales and Setanta).
The first is enforced by injury, with Ryan Caldwell coming into the second row in place of Carlo Del Fava, who has been ruled out with the shoulder injury he sustained in the defeat to Llanelli Scarlets last Friday.
In the back row there is a promotion for David Pollock, the player being groomed not only as a future star of the Ulster breakaway unit but also as a future captain, with Kieron Dawson dropping to the bench.
Del Fava’s omission paves the way for another rising home-grown star in the shape of Thomas Anderson, who has experience of playing in the second row for Irish Schools.
Significantly however, Williams has retained his backline intact, with no place in the 22-man squad for Ian Humphreys.
So, the 10-12-13 combination of Paddy Wallace, Rob Dewey and Darren Cave gets another opportunity to drive the game for Ulster, with the prospect of more rain tonight likely to force the visitors to adopt a more direct game when a high-tempo wide game would have been more suited to tiring the legs of a Cardiff line-up facing their third game in six days.
“Cardiff are a strong side, they played well against Leinster at the weekend and we are expecting a strong challenge, but our lads know what we have to do,” said Ulster assistant coach Steve Williams.
“We have some very experienced players in our side who know what it is like to play away in Wales and are hungry to come away with a win.”
Two of Dai Young’s side will be playing their third game in six days, full-back Ben Blair and lock Bradley Davies, while four others, Jamie Robinson, Darren Allinson, Rhys Thomas and Gary Powell are facing their second game in three days.
Significantly though, key players like Nicky Robinson, Gethin Jenkins, Paul Tito, Maama Molitika and Martin Williams return to the starting line-up having been rested since the 16-16 draw against Leinster at the Arms Park last Saturday.
“I’ve no doubt it will be another difficult game for us against quality opposition,” said Young. “Ulster are an improving team and a hungry team. The Scarlets went over to Belfast last week and won, so I’m sure they will come over to Cardiff breathing fire.
“They have a lot of quality players in key positions and also won the League in 2006. They will also be a lot fresher than us, having only played one match, but I’m not offering that as an excuse.
“We have to show a bit of character , but equally importantly, we have to show purpose in the way we play. Home games are paramount to us and we have to make sure we get the right result.”
Meanwhile, Ulster A will face Leinster A at Malone Rugby Club’s Gibson Park at 4pm today. The starting XV features eight fully contracted Ulster players with the rest of the team being made up of Academy and club players.
Ulster A Manager Gary Longwell said: “This is obviously a big opportunity for a lot of guys to make themselves known to Matt Williams and stake a claim for a starting place in the Magners League.”
CARDIFF BLUES: B Blair; L Halfpenny, J Robinson, G Thomas, C Czekaj; N Robinson, D Allinson; G Jenkins, T R Thomas, G Powell, B Davies, P Tito, M Molitika, M Williams, M Lewis.
Replacements: J Yapp, G Williams, S Morgan, A Powell, J Spice, C Sweeney, J Roberts.
ULSTER: C Schifcofske; A Trimble, D Cave, R Dewey, T Nagusa; P Wallace, l Boss; J Fitzpatrick; R Best (Capt), B Botha, R Caldwell, E O'Donoghue, M McCullough, D Pollock, R Diack
Replacements: N Brady, T Court, K Dawson, T Anderson, C Willis, N O’Connor, B Cunningham
ULSTER A: M McCrea; M Barker, P Steinmetz, I Whitten, J Smith; I Humphreys, P Marshall; J Carey; N Hanna, B Young, F Paulo, N McCombe, G Moore, W Faloon, C Henry
Replacements: S Philpott, P Karayiannis, M Wilson, M Entwhistle, D Drake, J Watt, R McCarter