Heaney and O’Connor set for Zebre visit

Michael Heaney

Half-backs Michael Heaney and Niall O’Connor have been included in the starting line up for Ulster’s RaboDirect PRO12 showdown with Zebre at the Stadio XXV Aprile on Sunday (2pm Irish time).

The young duo starts in place of Paul Marshall and Ruan Pienaar, both of whom are on international duty this weekend.

Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made a total of five personnel changes form the starting XV that humbled Edinburgh 45-20.

Ireland props Tom Court and Declan Fitzpatrick have been released from international duty and have been named on the bench.

Jared Payne will continue at outside centre alongside Paddy Wallace, after scoring a brace of tries in a very impressive performance against Edinburgh earlier this month.

Michael Allen returns to the team for the first time since picking up an ankle injury against Cardiff in September.

His inclusion on the right wing results in Chris Cochrane switching to the left flank in place of Ireland XV player Craig Gilroy. Academy fullback Ricky Andrew will earn his second start.

The front row of Callum Black, John Afoa and Nigel Brady remains, with the latter continuing as captain in the absence of Johann Muller.

Robbie Diack - usually a back-row player - will come into the second row after Lewis Stevenson’s injury. He will be partnered at lock by Neil McComb.

The back row sees Nick Williams elevated to the starting team at blindside flanker, while Mike McComish and Roger Wilson retain their places at openside and number 8 respectively.

Court and Fitzpatrick are joined on the bench by hooker Rob Herring, Academy second row James Simpson and Ali Birch, who is yet to play this season.

The backline replacements are all products of the Ulster Academy; Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding and Peter Nelson.

Ulster (V Zebre): R Andrew; M Allen, J Payne, P Wallace, C Cochrane; N O’Connor, M Heaney; C Black, N Brady (c), J Afoa, R Diack, N McComb, N Williams, M McComish, R Wilson.

Replacements: R Herring, T Court, D Fitzpatrick, J Simpson, A Birch, B McIlroy, S Olding, P Nelson.

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