Springboks back for Ulster
As widely expected, the Ulster squad to take on Munster in Friday night's PRO12 clash at a sold-out Ravenhill (kick-off 7.05pm) has a much more familiar look compared to the one that valiantly, but still heavily, succumbed in Boxing Day's reverse to Leinster at the RDS.
Though Brian McLaughlin is again without his Ireland contingent for this must-win interprovincial clash - due this time to an Irish training camp - the Ulster coach has recalled his Springbok contingent of skipper Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Pedrie Wannenburg and Stefan Terblanche as well as John Afoa to his 32-man provisional squad.
There are also returns for Chris Henry, Ian Humphreys, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Craig Gilroy, Dan Tuohy, Paddy McAllister, Adam D'Arcy, Willie Faloon and Andi Kyriacou as eighth-placed Ulster seek to stay in the running for a possible, though increasingly unlikely-looking, top four finish.
A seventh defeat from 12 outings could do irreversible damage to Ulster's League hopes, hence the importance of turning over third-placed Munster who, though they comfortably saw off Connacht on Boxing Day in John Hayes' last appearance for his province, will also be affected by Declan Kidney's training camp and by having to play their second game in a week.
The need to end the week with a win was starkly emphasised by McLaughlin who, along with the other Irish provincial coaches Tony McGahan, Joe Schmidt and Eric Elwood, has had to deal with the unfortunate scheduling that has dictated a four-day turnaround for the interprovincial clashes.
"We still have a glimmer of hope in the PRO12 and to keep that glimmer of hope alive we've got to beat Munster and we've got to then beat Edinburgh (next week)," McLaughlin said, while addressing the fact that his side are currently nine points adrift of fourth-placed Glasgow.
"It's a huge game for us and as long as it's mathematically possible (a top four finish) we'll still keep in there.
"The points are still there and while there's still a hope we'll keep going for it," the Ulster coach added.
McLauglin then turned his attention to the scheduling that compelled him to send out an inexperienced line-up against Leinster on Boxing Day.
"Whenever the fixture list came out we weren't very happy that we had a four-day turnaround.
"I think TV decided that. RTE decided they wanted the game then (Boxing Day) but Leinster and ourselves wanted the game on Christmas Eve. RTE pushed it to Monday night so that was the situation.
"We obviously want to put our best team out on the pitch as often as we possibly can but, like the Irish management looks after its international players, we have to look after the players we have here too.
"We took the decision and we said that at Christmas time we're going to do this and have two separate squads training for two separate games."
Nevertheless, the Ulster coach lauded the efforts of his Boxing Day side who, though superbly led by Nigel Brady, ultimately ran out of steam against a much more powerful Leinster unit.
"In all honesty we're very pleased with the performance, but not the score," McLaughlin said.
"The key thing for the young guys is that (though) we can't fault their endeavour, they've got to learn that when you get into the opposition's 22 you come away with points and that was emphasised to them after the game."
A number of Monday night's side are also named in Friday's enlarged squad with 16 of the players involved in the 42-13 defeat - including all five notable debutants, Ali Birch, Chris Farrell, Peter Nelson, Michael Allen and Callum Black - included ahead of Thursday's final team announcement.
Simon Danielli is also named for Munster though the Scotland international was unable to play against Leinster due to sickness which also forced Tim Barker to leave the action in the first half and there is concern that the camp may be about to be hit by a wave of illness.
Paddy Wallace, Luke Marshall, Declan Fitzpatrick, Paddy Jackson and Nevin Spence are all still on the injured list and were not considered for selection.