Best poised to return for Ulster's derby date
Rory Best will return to lead Ulster in their Magners League inter-provincial at Thomond Park on Saturday evening -- providing he comes through a tough contact session today.
The hooker has been sidelined with a fractured cheekbone suffered in the international against South Africa at the start of November, but has been given the all-clear to resume playing by the medical staff.
With the Six Nations on the horizon, the news will come as welcome relief for Ireland coach Declan Kidney, who rates Best highly and considers him one of his leaders.
Brian McLaughlin will also be delighted to at Best's return, with the Ulster coach expected to make sweeping changes following Monday's 30-13 home defeat to Leinster.
"The game on Monday was a huge disappointment to us all. Leinster were just more hungry than we were," said McLaughlin, who looks set to toss in a number of young hopefuls and rest his well-used Springbok contingent as well as most of his front-line Ireland players.
Paul Marshall is poised to take over from Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half, with Paddy Wallace likely to wear the No 10 jersey at the request of the Ireland management.
Youngsters Luke Marshall, Tommy Seymour, Paddy Jackson, Jamie Smith and Ian Porter will get a run at some stage, while Declan Fitzpatrick makes his first start for three months at tight-head now that his is fully recovered from a pulled calf muscle.
Ryan Caldwell will also feature at lock after an extended break to recover from a hip problem, with TJ Anderson certain to get his first start of the season at blindside flanker.
Ulster's recent performances at Thomond have been encouraging, but McLaughlin is well aware that only a 100pc effort will save them from another derby disappointment and a repeat of Munster's 16-6 win at Ravenhill in October.
Ulster squad in Factfile