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O’Toole Returns To Ulster Pack For Home Interpro

O’Toole Returns To Ulster Pack For Home Interpro

Tighthead prop Tom O'Toole is pictured in possession for Ulster against the Hollywoodbets Sharks back in March ©INPHO/Steve Haag Sports/Steve Haag

Ireland international Tom O’Toole returns from an ankle injury, coming in as Ulster’s only personnel change for Saturday’s BKT United Rugby Championship derby match against Leinster at a sold-out Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm).

Buoyed by last week’s 31-20 win at the Scarlets, sixth-placed Ulster could seal a URC play-off place – and qualification for the Investec Champions Cup – if they can maintain their winning momentum and other results go their way.

Having initially taken up the role on an interim basis, this is Richie Murphy’s first match in charge since signing a two-year deal as Ulster head coach.

An otherwise unchanged pack is led by captain Alan O’Connor at lock, with Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, and Kieran Treadwell completing the tight five as the Ulstermen aim to repeat their December victory over Leinster.

David McCann and Nick Timoney, who both touched down in Llanelli, feature in the back row, alongside Cormac Izuchukwu who impressed last Saturday, going desperarely close to marking his first start at blindside flanker with a try.

The 23-year-old Ethan McIlroy swaps positions in the back-three, moving to full-back with Michael Lowry, fresh from becoming Ulster’s latest centurion, reverting to the right side of the back-three. Jacob Stockdale is chasing his ninth try of the season on the left wing.

Billy Burns and Will Addison are two of the province’s departing players poised to bid a fond farewell to the home supporters. They start at half-back and centre, teaming up again with John Cooney and Stuart McCloskey respectively.

Murphy’s forward options on the bench are Tom Stewart, Andrew Warwick, Scott Wilson, Harry Sheridan, and Matthew Rea, and Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore, and Jude Postlethwaite will look to provice impact if they are introduced into the back-line.

Determined to put together a more complete performance against their provincial rivals, Murphy said: “We want to be playing European Cup rugby next season, so that’s the focus. We want to get better.

“(We had) a good review off the back of the Scarlets that showed some really good stuff but also some not so good. That wasn’t at the level where we want to be at. We are moving on.

“It will be very difficult (against Leinster). Also, really weird as I was doing a preview of Leinster (at home in Bray) and in walks my son Ben, who plays for Leinster! Even going to get my Ulster kit to come up (to Belfast), his Leinster kit is hanging on the line beside it. It’s a unique position.

“Playing Leinster is difficult wherever you play them. I’ve also been in the Leinster changing room at Kingspan Stadium, they don’t find it an easy place to come.

“If the crowd is anything like the last couple of home games, they will definitely have a big part to play. As Ulster we need to turn up and put them under pressure. It will be a big test to see where we are at.

“You learn from all those games, the one after Christmas (winning 22-21 at the RDS) was a big one. The personnel is a big one, (Steven) Kitshoff is out, ‘Hendy’ (Iain Henderson) is out.

“There are a number of guys who were involved that haven’t been in training. We’re under a bit of pressure with those we are missing but it gives other people an opportunity, who want to stake their claim.”

ULSTER (v Leinster): Ethan McIlroy; Michael Lowry, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Alan O’Connor (capt), Cormac Izuchukwu, David McCann, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: Tom Stewart, Andrew Warwick, Scott Wilson, Harry Sheridan, Matthew Rea, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore, Jude Postlethwaite.