Brian O'Driscoll and returning Irish Lions eager to roar back into Pro12 action
Ireland's leading Lions are preparing to roar into action this weekend as the provincial campaign begins to ramp up a notch.
Brian O'Driscoll heads the queue of returning heroes as he kicks off his swansong season in professional rugby – as well as trying to cast aside the memory of his controversial omission from the final Lions Test in Sydney.
Heaslip tweeted last night that he "can't wait for that moment walking down the tunnel out past the Terrace and onto the RDS in the blue of Leinster!"
Paul O'Connell, like O'Driscoll a former Lions captain, will also make his competitive bow in tomorrow's Musgrave Park clash against Dragons.
The final Lions tour of his career also ended in despair when injury cut his series short after finishing the first Test win despite fracturing an arm.
"It's great to be back in action and I'm just glad that the recovery from the operation went as well as could be expected," said the giant Limerick man.
"I can't wait to get out there and play."
Tommy Bowe, who made a remarkable recovery from a wrist injury to feature in the final two Tests on the first Lions series win since 1997, will make his first appearance of the season in Ulster colours tonight.
He joins Rory Best for their seasonal bow in the Pro12 clash against Treviso at newly renovated Ravenhill.
"It is great to be back," declared Bowe. "It has been a tough old pre-season with my wrist injury but I am delighted to be playing, delighted to be back fit again and looking to my first game at Ravenhill with the two new stands up."
Munster's Felix Jones is also in line to make his first appearance of the season after recovering from shoulder surgery – he is named on the bench.
Keith Earls shifts in from the wing to start at outside-centre in a new midfield partnership with Ivan Dineen.
Following a promising first outing in the league against Edinburgh, James Cronin has been selected to start at loosehead prop alongside Damien Varley and John Ryan in the front row.
Connacht coach Pat Lam has confirmed that his side's last arrival of the season, Samoan international utility back James So'oialo, will be available next weekend after pitching up in Galway last Monday.
"It's fantastic to finally have James here after some delays in getting his permit," said Lam. "He's in good nick and we expect him to be available for selection next week."