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Payne leads big trio making welcome return to side

By Jonathan Bradley

Les Kiss has rung the changes ahead of tonight's visit from Benetton Treviso (7.35pm kick-off) with the Ulster Director of Rugby making seven alterations to his starting side.

With only a five-day turnaround from last weekend's bonus-point win over Zebre, heavy rotation was always likely but the Australian has been boosted by a trio of big name returnees.

Jared Payne will make his first start for the province since October having made a comeback from injury off the bench in Parma last Sunday.

Having been recalled into the Ireland squad for the final two rounds of the Six Nations, the naturalised Kiwi will start at 13 with a trio of fellow internationals making up the back-three.

Andrew Trimble, whose last outing for Ulster came against Bordeaux in January, is back on the wing after appearing off the bench for Ireland last week and will hope to show his readiness for next week's game against Wales.

Craig Gilroy, who missed out last week a tight calf, will be at full-back for his first action since scoring a Six Nations hat-trick against Italy as a second-half substitute.

Ulster's other Irish players who were named by Joe Schmidt in yesterday's squad, namely Rory Best, Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson, have all been left to focus on the ongoing Six Nations campaign.

With Charles Piutau opposite Trimble, fresh from yet another man-of-the-match showing against Zebre, it means top-scorer Jacob Stockdale drops to the bench with Tommy Bowe rested from the 23.

Stuart Olding - who starts alongside Payne in midfield - Ruan Pienaar and Pete Nelson are all retained.

Once again though there is wholesale change in the pack.

While Rob Herring, who captains the panel, and Wiehahn Herbst hold onto their places, Andy Warwick drops to the bench where he joins John Andrew and Ricky Lutton as front-row replacements.

Neither Alan O'Connor nor Robbie Diack are involved having started last week against Zebre.

Kieran Treadwell and Franco van der Merwe come into the engine room, with Pete Browne providing lock cover on the bench.

In the back-row Chris Henry is rested for the first time since returning from injury against Cardiff in the opening week of December, with Clive Ross dropping to the bench.

Marcell Coetzee was prevented from playing last week due to illness, but is straight back into the number 8 jersey he has worn on his two previous Ulster outings.

Sean Reidy will line out at openside, having played six and eight in recent weeks, leaving veteran Roger Wilson to make his first start of 2017, extending his Ulster appearance record to 219 in the process.

Scrum-half Paul Marshall and centre Luke Marshall, who acted as Ireland's 24th man in the opening two Six Nations games, complete the replacements.

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