It is set to be a clash of the titans on Friday night as table toppers Ulster go head-to-head with provincial rivals Leinster at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm). Tickets are available to buy here.
With both teams looking to continue their winning ways in the BKT United Rugby Championship, the Ulstermen are facing what will likely be their toughest challenge yet this season as Leo Cullen’s Leinster make the journey to Belfast.
While for Ulster this will be their second interprovincial derby at home already in 2022/23, head coach Dan McFarland is in no doubt as to the contest that lies ahead:
“It’s one of the biggest games of the year, if not, the biggest game of the year in terms of interest, and the fact that it’s a home game for us,” he said.
“Leinster are a team that play really good rugby, and they will test us both sides of the ball. We’ve been tested a fair bit in different ways over the last two rounds.
“But Leinster bring an all-round game that will test all aspects of our game. It will be a good barometer, and I look forward to seeing how we go.”
Ulster born-and-bred, centre Luke Marshall is set to run out in front of a home crowd for his 150th cap. He partners Stuart McCloskey, who himself reached the 150-cap milestone the last time Leinster were in town.
There is an unchanged back-three, all homegrown and with an average age of 24, as Michael Lowry and wingers Aaron Sexton, who made his first start in Llanelli last Saturday, and Jacob Stockdale are all retained.
John Cooney, last week’s player-of-the-match against the Scarlets, will be looking to continue his talismanic form alongside Billy Burns at half-back. Together, they contributed 35 points in the last round.
Tom O’Toole is the only change to the starting XV, swapping in for Martin Moore at tighthead prop with Rob Herring making it an all-Ireland international front row.
They are supported by captain Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell in the engine room, while the Rea brothers, Matthew and Marcus, combine again with Nick Timoney in the loose forwards.
Forward cover will be provided by John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Moore, who contributed to last week’s try tally, Sam Carter and Greg Jones. The back-line options for David Shanahan, Angus Curtis and Larne youngster Ben Moxham.
ULSTER (v Leinster): Michael Lowry; Aaron Sexton, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor (capt), Kieran Treadwell, Matthew Rea, Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Eric O’Sullivan, Martin Moore, Sam Carter, Greg Jones, David Shanahan, Angus Curtis, Ben Moxham.