Following a break in play for the Autumn Nations Series, Ulster are back and ready to kick-start the upcoming ten-game block in the right way under the Friday night lights.
With a bumper crowd of over 16,000 expected, supporters will be out in force as the province, currently sat second in the table with a postponed game to play, take on Zebre Parma – the only team in the league yet to secure a win this season.
However, the home side will not be taking anything for granted, as the Italian opposition have shown their grit and determination, including in their recent narrow defeats to Leinster and the Cell C Sharks.
Assistant Coach, Dan Soper, makes it clear that the squad will be putting in the miles ahead of Round 8.
“The guys have been lapping-up that we are back to a match week. We’re looking at ourselves, the opposition, and what we’re going to do on Friday, and we are really looking forward to getting going now.”
Duane Vermeulen will lead the Ulster men out on Friday night as he captains the side for the first time since arriving in the province last season. Alongside the Number Eight will be brothers Matty and Marcus Rea who get the nod at blindside and openside flanker respectively.
Emerging Ireland graduate, Cormac Izuchukwu, who recently signed a new contract to stay at the club until at least 2026, will be joined in the second row by Wallaby, Sam Carter. While Marty Moore, who scored a try in the Ireland ‘A’ game against the All Blacks XV a couple of weeks ago in his return to the green jersey, is joined by Ulster Rugby Academy graduates, Callum Reid and Tom Stewart.
Meanwhile, fly-half Jake Flannery is set to earn his first Ulster cap when he forms the half-back partnership with 20-year-old Nathan Doak. Winger, Jacob Stockdale, makes a welcome return from injury and is joined in the back three by Ethan McIlroy and Stewart Moore.
Forward cover from the bench will be provided by John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Iain Henderson, who both make a return from international duty, along with David McCann. If called upon, Michael McDonald, a new signing this season, will make his debut for the province, with Angus Curtis and Ben Moxham providing the additional backline reinforcements.
Ulster team to play Zebre Parma, BKT United Rugby Championship Round 8, Friday 25 November at Kingspan Stadium (KO 7 35pm), live from 7 15pm on BBC NI, TG4, Viaplay & URC.tv.
(15-9): Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, James Hume, Luke Marshall, Jacob Stockdale, Jake Flannery, Nathan Doak;
(1-8): Callum Reid, Tom Stewart, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Sam Carter, Matty Rea, Marcus Rea, Duane Vermeulen (Captain).
Replacements: John Andrew, Andy Warwick, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Iain Henderson, David McCann, Michael McDonald, Angus Curtis, Ben Moxham.