Six of the best for Ulster as Kidney unleashes young guns
Ulster's unbeaten start to the season in all competition seems certain to be rewarded with their highest representation in an Irish starting XV for seven years against Fiji this Saturday.
At least six of Mark Anscombe's side seem primed to be selected by Declan Kidney for the non-cap international in Thomond Park as Ireland's under-pressure squad take a breather ahead of the must-win clash against Argentina in nine days' time.
Kidney and his selectors had always intended to target the game against Fiji as an opportunity to develop a squad that is struggling to cope with the absence of so many frontline players.
"It's a Catch 22," according to assistant coach Gert Smal. "You want to give young guys an opportunity, but you also want to keep a momentum. So it's about keeping a balance and seeing that you still win the game. This is a new game and we will approach it in maybe a different way because it is not South Africa.
"Fiji are very unstructured so you have to have your game in place if you want to beat them."
Ulster's Darren Cave (right) is one of several young guns eager to demonstrate that they can fill the gap left by a raft of injury absentees.
"Ulster have improved over the last few years, it's a lot more enjoyable, getting your hands on the ball in space a lot more," said the 25-year-old.
"It definitely improves you as a player when you have quality players around you and you play against quality opposition."
Cave is likely to be joined by young Ulster team-mates Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Iain Henderson in the Ireland starting line-up, plus more experienced provincial colleague Dan Tuohy.
The last time there were six Ulster players in an Irish XV was in the November series of 2005, when Eddie O'Sullivan's side defeated Romania 43-12.
Probable Ireland XV (v Fiji) – Hurley; Gilroy, Cave, L Marshall, McFadden; Jackson, Murray/Reddan; Kilcoyne, Cronin, Ross; O'Callaghan, Tuohy; Henderson, Muldoon, Heaslip (capt).