Darren Cave will become the sixth Ulster player to reach a double century of caps, when the team lines out against Connacht at The Sportsground on Saturday night (kick-off7.35pm).
Cave, who made his first appearance for the Province against the Border Reivers in April 2007, will start at inside centre, where he will be paired in midfield with Louis Ludik.
In the back three, Andrew Trimble returns to the starting XV on the left wing, with Craig Gilroy retained on the right and Jacob Stockdale shifting to fullback.
Peter Nelson is named to start at out-half, alongside scrum-half John Cooney, who will make his first return to Galway since joining Ulster from Connacht last summer.
In the pack, there are starts for Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy pair Matthew Dalton and Nick Timoney at lock and number 8 respectively.
Robbie Diack joins Dalton in the engine room, with captain Iain Henderson and Sean Reidy making up the back row with Timoney.
In the front row, props Andy Warwick and Wiehahn Herbst will scrum down either side of hooker John Andrew.
Former Ireland U20 out-half Johnny McPhillips, who has featured prominently in the Ulster A team’s recent British & Irish Cup wins, is in line for his first senior appearance as he is included among the replacements. Paul Marshall and Rob Lyttle will provide the additional backline cover, while Adam McBurney, Schalk van der Merwe, Ross Kane, Matthew Rea and Clive Ross are the forward options from the bench.
The clash with Ulster is the first in the series of Christmas interpros with clashes away to Leinster (Jan 1st) and Munster (Jan 6th) to come.
Tiernan O’Halloran is back in the side at full back and is joined by Niyi Adeolokun and Matt Healy, who scored four tries in Connacht’s win over Brive last weekend. Jack Carty and Kieran Marmion form the half back pairing after Marmion was rested in the win against Brive.
In the pack Denis Coulson comes in at loose head in place of the injured Denis Buckley. He is joined in the front row by hooker Shane Delahunt and Finlay Bealham at tight head. In the back-row flanker Jarrad Butler returns from an injury he picked up in the victory at home to Munster in October.
Connacht have installed additional terracing in the Sportsground to accommodate the ticket demand for the Christmas fixture and Head coach Kieran Keane says he expects the home crowd will be have a bearing on the game. “The crowd have been massive for us so far this season and the place will be in festive spirit on Saturday. That has a huge impact on players. That can create an 8 or 10 point turn around. Just look how the players responded last week and the night we played Munster. We want to recreate that atmosphere and that performance again on Saturday”
(15-9) Tiernan O’Halloran, Niyi Adeleokun, Bundee Aki, Tom Farrell, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion, (1-8) Denis Coulson, Shane Delahunt, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (Capt)
Replacements (16-23): Tom McCartney, Peter McCabe, Conor Carey, James Cannon, Naulia Dawai, James Mitchell, Eoin Griffin, Darragh Leader.
Ulster Rugby team to play Connacht, Saturday 23rd December at The Sportsground, kick-off 7.35pm(live on BBC NI & TG4):
(1-8): Andy Warwick, John Andrew, Wiehahn Herbst, Matthew Dalton, Robbie Diack, Iain Henderson (Capt), Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney;
(9-15): John Cooney, Peter Nelson, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Louis Ludik, Craig Gilroy, Jacob Stockdale.
Replacements (16-23): Adam McBurney, Schalk van der Merwe, Ross Kane, Matthew Rea, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Johnny McPhillips, Rob Lyttle.