A DIFFICULT December for Ulster carried into January with defeat to Munster on New Year's Day, but head coach Dan McFarland believes there is enough quality in the quad to arrest their decline tomorrow when they face Benetton at the Stadio Monego (1pm).

Ulster have lost four of the last five including two apiece in the URC and Europe, so it is imperative they get back on the winning trail to rebuild confidence.

Still, they remain in third place in the standings - albeit a long way back from leaders Leinster - and a decent run will see them right back on track in terms of their ambition to gain as high a regular season finish as possible to not only secure playoff rugby, but home advantage.

"We understand the difficult spell we have been in, but we also understand we are a quality team and have been for three or four years - we are working hard at it," said McFarland.

"Bad momentum can snowball. That second half against Leinster felt like a punch in the face. You can’t let it hit you, and it’s important to keep believing in what you do. We have had ups and downs, but if you believe in what you do, you weather through those."

Their Italian opposition has had an up-and-down season with six wins from 11 games and currently resides in seventh place in the table.

Back-to-back wins over Italian rivals Zebra over the Christmas period after one win and a loss in the European Challenge Cup will give them confidence ahead of Ulster's visit.
McFarland has gone with a strong starting side as Rob Baloucoune is joined in the back three by Jacob Stockdale and Mike Lowry.

Stuart McCloskey forms a midfield duo with James Hume, while the roles of scrum half and fly half once again go to John Cooney, who scored nine of the last round’s 14 points, and Billy Burns respectively.

Sean Reffell retains his place in the back row together with Greg Jones, as Nick Timoney is named at number eight.

Iain Henderson will skipper the Ulster men and is joined by Kieran Treadwell in the engine room.

Tighthead prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen comes into the front row to pack down with Eric O’Sullivan at loosehead and Rob Herring at hooker.

“We have really good players who are not playing as well as they want and some aspects of the system which may not be working as well as we want them to, but we have to trust in those," he insists.

"We’ll keep working and there will be some changes this weekend. The game in Treviso is very important to us and we need to get back to playing well again.”

The hope is those changes will do the trick in terms of getting a reaction from the players who have just lost their way slightly, yet that doesn't mean that Ulster have turned into a bad team.

Performances haven't been at the level they expect from themselves, so first and foremost, the job on Saturday afternoon is to get that side of things right and should the deliver, the result will look after itself.

"Everybody takes responsibility in our group, sometimes guys don’t play well, sometimes we don’t coach well, sometimes we don’t physio well, but most of the time we do a really good job,” McFarland outlined.

“You come in and are really disappointed but there’s always an attitude of action and we need to focus on the rugby. We’ve been against good opposition and been punished. The mood is one of getting better."