TOMMY BOWE will begin the road back to fitness today when he undergoes surgery on his lateral knee ligaments which he injured during Ulster's defeat to Northampton last weekend.
The Ireland winger has revealed that the injury is not as bad as first feared. However, he seems likely to miss the Six Nations and his place on the Lions tour is likely to be dependent on how well his rehab goes.
Already without Bowe and lock Dan Tuohy following that narrow European Cup defeat against Northampton last weekend, coach Mark Anscombe was relieved that Jackson came through training and is available to take his place in what is expected to be a strong Ulster line-up.
New Ireland poster boy Craig Gilroy will step into the boots of the unfortunate Bowe, albeit on the left wing, with Andrew Trimble switching to the right. With Tuohy out for four weeks with a pulled calf muscle, Anscombe will call up Ravens' skipper Neil McComb to partner Iain Henderson in the second-row.
The only question marks revolve around the midfield partnership, with Luke Marshall coming into the equation, and who will feature at blindside forward. Anscombe looks set to feature Nick Williams again in the No 6 jersey, although he may be tempted to give Robbie Diack a run. Diack, however, will be needed as emergency second-row cover as regular locks are now thin on the ground due to injury.
Assistant coach Neil Doak believes that Ulster spurned chances against the Saints.
"Unlike the previous week at Franklin's Gardens, we just didn't take a couple of chances that appeared for us. If you look at the stats we turned the ball over too many times and couldn't sustain any pressure," he said.
"If you are ahead of Leinster at the end of the year you won't be too far off the mark. They are a quality side and they have got some quality players. They have been the benchmark over the last couple of years."