Captain Best back for Ulster to begin Japan bid
Rory Best's bid to make next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan will begin on Friday as the 36-year-old Ireland captain makes his Ulster return to action against Connacht.
The hooker has yet to play this season after a recurring hamstring problem ruled him out of the summer tour of Australia in June at the 11th hour.
Record-breaking winger Jacob Stockdale will also feature in the Kingspan Stadium clash as he makes his seasonal debut after suffering his own hamstring injury in pre-season.
Ireland secured a series win Down Under in the absence of their injured skipper who has entered the final year of his contract and has yet to decide whether to continue beyond next year.
After enduring a difficult year with injury, he will be hoping for a clean run at Ulster's European games against Leicester Tigers and Racing to ensure he is fighting fit to lead the national team in the November internationals.
Marcell Coetzee and Will Addison could be fit to face the westerners, while Iain Henderson is following the concussion protocols. Darren Cave has been ruled out for eight weeks with a thumb fracture.