Bowe back as red-hot Ulster go for super six in a row
Despite issuing a lengthy and comprehensive injury update ahead of this evening's trip to face champions Connacht (7.35pm kick-off), Ulster have at least been boosted by Tommy Bowe's availability to make just his second Ulster start since the end of the 2014/15 campaign.
The wing, a veteran of two Lions tours and 67 Ireland caps, sustained a knee ligament injury at the World Cup just two weeks shy of a year ago, and his first comeback attempt, in April of this year, lasted only one game.
He appeared from the bench in last week's win against Ospreys, banking 20 minutes of action following a rapturous reception from the crowd, convincing Les Kiss that he was ready for the start in Galway tonight.
Given the injury riddled nature of the backline, it is a timely boost for the Guinness PRO12's early pace-setters as they look to win their sixth consecutive game.
While Craig Gilroy will play on the other wing, All Black superstar Charles Piutau sustained a concussion against Ospreys six days ago ruling him out of selection, while co-captain Andrew Trimble is still at least a week away with a lingering toe injury.
With Stuart McCloskey having broken a bone in his foot and facing six weeks on the sidelines, and Ulster erring on the side of caution with Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding after both were cleared to play following concussion and groin issues respectively, the in-form Louis Ludik switches to the centre where he will join Darren Cave.
The pair will reprise the successful partnership that saw out the win against Glasgow two weeks ago.
As such, Jared Payne reverts to fullback and will captain the side from the 15 jersey.
With Ruan Pienaar rested, Paul Marshall will again be inside Paddy Jackson, with Dave Shanahan promoted to the bench.
Up front, injury issues have also influenced selection after Ulster confirmed that resilient lock Franco van der Merwe will miss two to three weeks with an ankle injury.
Fellow second-rower Alan O'Connor is ill so Pete Browne and Robbie Diack form a new partnership in the engine room with Kieran Treadwell providing cover as a replacement.
Iain Henderson has shrugged off the elbow issue that caused him to miss last week's win and joins a back-row unit of Roger Wilson and Clive Ross with Sean Reidy dropping to the bench.
At the coalface, Rory Best again starts, while co-skipper Rob Herring is on the bench after being rested last week, with Callum Black and former Connacht man Rodney Ah You propping either side.
On his first return to Galway, Ah You, who has exceeded expectations since moving north, was keen to downplay the personal aspect to the occasion.
"It will be good to be back at the Sportsground albeit in a different jersey," said the 27-year-old.
"Connacht will be really up for this game, so I'm excited.
"To be honest, I haven't kept in touch with any of the guys," he added.
"Moving up here was like a fresh start for me and I have moved on so it's just another day at the office."
The naturalised Kiwi, who has won three Irish caps, added that the key to the impressive start to his Ulster career is down to how quickly he and his family have settled.
"I feel like I have settled in really well to Ulster, my wife and kids are very happy here which makes things easier. I don't have to worry about things off the pitch."