The provincial bragging rights as well as top spot in the Magners League will be on the line when Ulster entertain Leinster on Saturday. Leinster did the double over Ulster last season, but Brian McLaughlin’s men in white have won three of their last four league matches and home advantage could prove decisive.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, October 24
ULSTER (2nd) v LEINSTER (1st), Ravenhill, 6pm (live Setanta Sports 1)
Click here to listen to a pre-match interview with Ulster’s Chris Henry.
Team News: Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has made a number of personnel changes for Saturday’s Magners League derby against Leinster.
The Ulster management have made four changes to the pack, with Nigel Brady swapping places with Andy Kyriacou at hooker and Dan Tuohy taking over from Ed O’Donoghue in the second row.
Ireland and Lions flanker Stephen Ferris has been ruled out with a niggling ankle injury, allowing New Zealand recruit Tamaiti Horua to come in on the blindside for his first Magners League start, while stand-in skipper Chris Henry starts at number 8 and Robbie Diack drops to the replacements.
In the backs, Ian Whitten pairs up with fellow Ireland international Darren Cave in the centre, deputising for Paddy Wallace who is being rested under the IRFU 2011 World Cup Player Manager Programme.
On the eve of the top of the table clash, McLaughlin said: “Tomorrow night we have to match the level of performance we produced against the Ospreys and Bath. We have to produce this week in, week out. Not as a one-off, or occasionally, but consistently.
“The squad have trained hard this week, to ensure that we’re at our optimum level on Saturday. If we’re at our optimum level then I think we’ll be okay.
“The players were deeply disappointed by the performance against Edinburgh last week. We all saw it as an opportunity and now we all know that on the day we didn’t achieve. We fell below our 10 out of 10.
“We know we have an opportunity to redeem ourselves this weekend and the fixture couldn’t be better – the Heineken Cup winners at Ravenhill.”
Meanwhile, Brian O’Driscoll will skipper the Leinster side and partner Gordon D’Arcy in midfield for Saturday’s interprovincial showdown in Belfast.
There is an all-new half-back pairing with Chris Keane starting alongside Shaun Berne, while Girvan Dempsey starts on the right wing with Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa continuing at full-back and on the left wing respectively.
In the pack, Ronan McCormack lines up alongside Bernard Jackman and Mike Ross in the front row, with Devin Toner partnering Nathan Hines. The back row remains unchanged.
CJ van der Linde has been named on a strong replacements panel which includes the likes of Malcolm O’Kelly, Jonathan Sexton and Luke Fitzgerald.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Ian Whitten, Andrew Trimble; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Dan Tuohy, Ryan Caldwell, Tamaiti Horua, Willie Faloon, Chris Henry (capt).
Replacements: Andy Kyriacou, Bryan Young, Ed O’Donoghue, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Niall O’Connor, Simon Danielli.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Girvan Dempsey, Brian O’Driscoll (capt), Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Shaun Berne, Chris Keane; Ronan McCormack, Bernard Jackman, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Nathan Hines, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: John Fogarty, CJ van der Linde, Malcolm O’Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Simon Keogh, Jonathan Sexton, Luke Fitzgerald.
Referee: Andrew Small (England)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, Jude Quinn (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: John Carvill (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 11/10; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 8/11
Say What: Dan Tuohy (Ulster) – “Before the Connacht game in Galway, we talked about what the interpros meant and what they required. I’ve heard a lot about what you need to bring into these games.
“With injury I’ve missed the Magners League matches against Edinburgh and the Scarlets, so this will be my first one back and the fact that it’s against Leinster is great.
“Last Saturday against Edinburgh was a poor performance, but sometimes you can learn an awful lot from a defeat. I think we’ve taken a fair bit away from that game.
“I think that if we’d won it might have papered over one or two cracks. The positive part of last weekend is that it has forced us to look at what went wrong and really concentrate on how we go about changing it.
“The positive thing is that this week in training we have used that experience as a tool to eradicate those mistakes.
“Our sessions are always pretty thorough anyway, but this week we’d one at Jordanstown on Tuesday that was tough, followed by another very hard one at Newforge.
“Those have helped. The boys have really got a niggle because they’re genuinely frustrated.
“That has shown in training; I think it has been a case of working off our frustration after Saturday.
“And with a lot of the lads here in the frame for national selection and the squads being named soon, this is a big opportunity to show what they can do. They’ll want to prove a point against their opposite numbers.
“Leinster have a lot of players who are already established as internationals so they’ll want to make sure that nobody outplays them.”
Sean O’Brien (Leinster) – “We’re winning games, which is the most important thing at the moment, but as a group we know that there’s room for improvement in our play.
“We’re not firing on all cylinders but we’re fighting hard to grind out wins and we will need to be sharp against what is a really strong Ulster side just now.
“Ulster have a powerful forward unit. I have played against Willie Faloon before and he is a good up-and-coming player, while Chris Henry and Robbie Diack are all playing well in the back row.
“(Stephen) Ferris is an enforcer for them and with Ian Humphreys playing so well at the moment, we’ll have to be really sharp to counter their threats.
“It’s important that we compete with Ulster from the off and because it’s an interprovincial game, that will add a bit more spice to proceedings.
“Ravenhill is a great ground to play in. The home crowd really gets behind their team and it’s not an easy place to go to. But we’ll approach the game positively.
“Irrespective of the local nature of these Magners League games, we have to approach the games with the mentality that we have to win and treat it like any other game.
“There’s great competition for places so there’s no chance of players taking whatever opportunities that might come their way for granted. Look at someone like Kev (McLaughlin) who came on and scored two tries last weekend.
“With Hinesy (Nathan Hines) doing so well for us recently and players like Jenno (Shane Jennings), Keogher (Stephen Keogh) and Jamie (Heaslip) in the back row, you have to be at your best.
“The Academy players are also putting pressure on all of us in training. It’s fiercely competitive but it’s brilliant to be a part of that environment.”
Top Scorers – 2009/10 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 49; Tries: Simon Danielli, Timoci Nagusa, Andrew Trimble 2 each; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 56; Tries: Girvan Dempsey, Isa Nacewa, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan 1 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, December 2, 2006 – Ulster 6 Leinster 6, Ravenhill
Sunday, December 31, 2006 – Leinster 20 Ulster 12, Lansdowne Road
Friday, October 26, 2007 – Ulster 16 Leinster 16, Ravenhill
Wednesday, December 26, 2007 – Leinster 29 Ulster 0, The RDS
Saturday, December 27, 2008 – Ulster 13 Leinster 21, Ravenhill
Sunday, March 29, 2009 – Leinster 32 Ulster 6, The RDS
– Ulster have claimed victories in three of their last four matches in the Magners League, and have also won three of their last four games against fellow Irish provinces
– Leinster have won five of their last six games in all competitions
– The reigning European champions have also been victorious in their last three away games but have not won four in-a-row on the road since the 2003/04 season
– Leinster have lost on just one of their last seven visits to Ravenhill since 2000. That defeat came in the Magners League on May 7, 2004, when they went down 28-6 to Ulster