Having started the season perfectly the stars will need to come back in seamlessly as the younger players have been hugely impressive in their absence.
Robbie Henshaw, Luke McGrath, Cian Healy and Andrew Porter have all come straight into the starting line-up, while Rhys Ruddock and Rob Kearney take up places on the bench.
With that in mind it means that Healy and Porter join Ronan Kelleher in the front-row, with Devin Toner and captain Scott Fardy once again in the second-row.
Josh Murphy is at blindside-flanker, with Will Connors at openside and Max Deegan completes the pack from No 8.
McGrath links up with Ross Byrne in the half-backs, with Byrne having watched younger brother Harry star last weekend during their win over the Dragons, while Joe Tomane is joined by Henshaw in the midfield pairing.
James Lowe remains on the left-wing, with Adam Bryne taking over from Dave Kearney on the right, while Hugo Keenan returns from an ankle injury to come back in at full-back.
There is a huge amount of experience on the bench for the reigning back to back champions with the likes of Michael Bent and Jamison Gibson-Park joining Ruddock and Kearney among the replacements.
Leinster are looking to make it six wins from six at the start of the new PRO14 season with victory on Friday night as they attempt to extend their lead at the top of Conference A, while for Connacht they have a chance to go top of Conference B for at least 24 hours if they claim the win.
Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.
15. Hugo Keenan (9)
14. Adam Byrne (54)
13. Robbie Henshaw (37)
12. Joe Tomane (17)
11. James Lowe (33)
10. Ross Byrne (75)
9. Luke McGrath (113)
1. Cian Healy (208)
2. Rónan Kelleher (6)
3. Andrew Porter (53)
4. Devin Toner (235)
5. Scott Fardy (47) (C)
6. Josh Murphy (25)
7. Will Connors (8)
8. Max Deegan (51)
16. James Tracy (97)
17. Ed Byrne (45)
18. Michael Bent (129)
19. Ross Molony (87)
20. Rhys Ruddock (161)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (75)
22. Ciarán Frawley (15)
23. Rob Kearney (210)
Ulster ring the changes for Munster
There are nine changes to the side that travelled to Leicester last Friday. In the back three, Jacob Stockdale and Ethan McIlroy are retained at full-back and left-wing respectively, with Rob Lyttle coming in to start on the right. Will Addison will make his first start this season at outside centre, partnering up with Stuart McCloskey. Michael Lowry and Alby Mathewson will form the starting half-back partnership.
It’s all-change in the front row, with Andrew Warwick and Tom O’Toole getting the nod at loosehead and tighthead prop, and John Andrew named at hooker. Last week’s second row pairing of Alan O’Connor and Iain Henderson has been retained, and Henderson will lead the side. In the back row, Marcus Rea is named to start at openside flanker with Jordi Murphy making the switch to blindside, and David McCann is selected at Number Eight.
Angus Curtis makes a long-awaited return to the Ulster match-day squad for the first time since he sustained a serious knee injury in December 2019, and is named among the replacements. He is joined by David Shanahan and James Hume in providing back line cover. Wallaby lock Sam Carter is also set for his return to action, and he joins Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore and Nick Timoney as the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Munster Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 2, Friday 7 May at Thomond Park (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Rob Lyttle, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Michael Lowry, Alby Mathewson;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Jordi Murphy, Marcus Rea, David McCann.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Reid, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, James Hume.
Huge boost for Ulster as Henderson & Addison return
Iain Henderson makes his return to lead the side and will be partnered by Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead prop, with Tom O’Toole at tighthead and Rob Herring selected to start at hooker. In the back row, Matty Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Sean Reidy at openside, and Nick Timoney completing the pack at Number Eight.
Jacob Stockdale makes a positional switch to full-back, and will be joined by Ethan McIlroy and Robert Baloucoune in the back three. Stewart Moore will form the midfield partnership with James Hume, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are named as the starting half-backs.
Will Addison is set to make his return from a lengthy spell on the sidelines as he is named among the Ulster back line replacements alongside David Shanahan and Michael Lowry. John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor and Greg Jones are the forward options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Connacht Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Round 1, Friday 23 April at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports):
(15-9) Jacob Stockdale, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Will Addison.
Munster confirm Zebo signing
This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.
In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”