Ulster Rugby: Darren Cave steps inside as Anscombe shows strong selection
It's been quite a week and now fourth-placed Ulster hope to end it on a high when they return to action tonight in the PRO12 to take on the Ospreys – who are a place above them – at another sold-out Ravenhill (kick-off 7.35pm).
With the backdrop of Johann Muller announcing his retirement, Luke Marshall and Iain Henderson back at Ulster after being culled from Ireland's match day squad for Wales and Mark Anscombe being granted a year's extension in charge, it's been such a hectic couple of days that tonight's match has had to battle a bit for attention.
Mind you, there's no doubting the importance of this game as both sides seek to bolster their chances of making the PRO12 semi-finals and Anscombe has, at least, managed to select a strong looking outfit for Ulster's first league game since defeating Munster at the start of the New Year.
Since then, of course, Ulster have secured their home quarter-final in the Heineken Cup but all that has now been parked as the next four game segment – three against Welsh opposition and one more game at Treviso – is all about accumulating PRO12 results, especially with three of these games being at home.
Anscombe's most notable call for tonight is clearly the selection of Darren Cave at inside centre.
It's a position the Ireland squad member filled at the recent Wolfhounds outing and presumably is also one he will need to compete for should Jared Payne move into more permanent residence at outside centre.
The Ulster coach could have pitched Luke Marshall straight into action – he is benched along with Henderson – after he was left out by Joe Schmidt, but has chosen to give Cave more game time with the number 12 on his back.
Anscombe's decision may also have more of a bearing on the next few games especially if Marshall returns to Ireland and Paddy Wallace and Chris Farrell remain on the sidelines.
Cave hooks up with Payne in what looks like a more than useful attacking midfield while Ricky Andrew is brought back at full back and Michael Allen returns to the left wing while Craig Gilroy is on the right.
With Paddy Jackson still on Ireland's bench, James McKinney gets a rare game at out half though with Ruan Pienaar inside him it is highly unlikely he will reprise last November's game against Edinburgh when he scored 21 points and nailed all eight kicks at goal.
Up front, Tom Court and Rob Herring are back against an Ospreys side shorn of 19 players on national duty while skipper Muller packs down alongside Lewis Stevenson who is for Dan Tuohy.
The back row has also been changed, from Ulster's last game against Leicester, with Sean Doyle at openside flanker and Robbie Diack recalled to start on the blindside while Roger Wilson shifts to number eight.
Nick Williams drops to what is a useful looking bench what with the Kiwi, Luke Marshall and Henderson waiting to join the action.