DECLAN KIDNEY has flexed his muscles ahead of the November internationals as Ulster and Munster put the national interest first with their selections for tonight's Pro12 games.
The Ireland coach has headaches in three key positions ahead of the opening Test against South Africa on November 10. The absence of injured Leinster duo Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien has left vacancies at full-back and openside, while there is also a lack of cover for tight-head prop behind Mike Ross.
Ulster boss Mark Anscombe has obliged Kidney by selecting Tommy Bowe in the unfamiliar No 15 jersey for tonight's visit to Newport to face the Dragons, with in-form Kiwi full-back Jared Payne dropping to the bench.
Lions star Bowe was a full-back at school, but has played his professional rugby out wide or in the centre.
Having been left out of the initial 31-man squad, twice-capped Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick has a chance to make a case for late inclusion after he was picked ahead of former All Black John Afoa for the trip to Rodney Parade.
Munster coach Rob Penney has also amended his team to give players a chance to impress the Ireland management ahead of the South Africa game on November 10.
Peter O'Mahony starts at openside against Italian side Zebre, having played at No 8 in all of his previous outings this season. The 23-year-old is set for a battle with Ulster's Chris Henry for the Ireland No 7 shirt in O'Brien's absence.
Penney also hands Felix Jones his first senior start of the season and, if the Dublin-born full-back plays well, he could be added to the Ireland squad next week.
Like Anscombe, Penney has rested a big-name prop in BJ Botha to give Stephen Archer a chance for some game time as Kidney looks to keep his options below Ross open. Corkman Archer was mentioned by the Ireland boss among the possible options to cover Ross if necessary over the next month.
Neither Stephen Ferris nor Ronan O'Gara are involved for their provinces tonight, but the Lions duo are expected to return to training next week as they face a race to be fit for the opening autumn Test against South Africa in two weeks' time.
Leinster look set to name a mix of front-liners needing game time and players returning from injury for their Pro12 meeting with Cardiff Blues tomorrow, the last league match before the Ireland squad get together for training next week.