Ulster will bid for their fifth successive win in all competitions when they entertain their provincial rivals Leinster in a much-anticipated Magners League showdown at Ravenhill.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Monday, December 27
ULSTER (5th) v LEINSTER (6th), Ravenhill, 4pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTE Two)
Team News: The Ulster team has been named for Monday’s sell-out festive fixture against Leinster at Ravenhill.
Amongst the forwards, there are two changes in personnel to the Ulster team that defeated Bath at the Recreation Ground last weekend.
With the Ireland internationals rested, Tom Court is unavailable for selection so Paddy McAllister is promoted from the replacements bench to the loosehead prop berth. Back rowers Chris Henry and Willie Faloon have also swapped positions in the matchday squad.
In the backs, winger Craig Gilroy and centre Ian Whitten return to the starting line-up in place of the unavailable Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace, while Niall O’Connor will start at out-half after Ian Humphreys injured his ankle in training this week.
Ulster assistant coach Jeremy Davidson said: “These upcoming derby games are very important for Leinster, Munster and ourselves because we are all pushing towards the top of the Magners League.
“We very much want to stay alive in both the league and the Heineken Cup, so it’s very important in this transition week that we don’t take our foot off the pedal.
“We have to push forward and get two good results out of the next two games. Leinster have gone very well beating Clermont at home last week and nearly beating them away when they got a bonus point, so they will be coming to Ravenhill full of confidence and we have to remain focused on the task in hand.
“We are very focused and have had some good training sessions and we are building nicely towards the game on Monday.”
Meanwhile, the selected Leinster team shows eight changes in personnel to the side that secured an impressive home win over Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup last weekend.
Isa Nacewa, who has scored 90 points so far this season, starts again at full-back in a back-line which includes three Ireland internationals.
Brian O’Driscoll partners Fergus McFadden at centre, with Shane Horgan continuing on the right wing. Shaun Berne links up with former Ulster scrum half Isaac Boss at half-back, while David Kearney comes in as an indirect replacement for Gordon D’Arcy.
Heinke van der Merwe and Jason Harris-Wright take over from Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss in the front row, linking up with Mike Ross.
Devin Toner starts in the second row alongside team captain Leo Cullen, with Sean O’Brien, who moves to number 8, forming an exciting looking back row unit with Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock.
Clontarf’s Ireland club international hooker Aaron Dundon, who has featured for Leinster’s British & Irish Cup team of late, has been selected amongst the replacements for the first time along with Academy player Ben Marshall.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Craig Gilroy, Nevin Spence, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli; Niall O’Connor, Ruan Pienaar; Paddy McAllister, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Declan Fitzpatrick, Bryan Young, Tim Barker, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Tommy Seymour.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Fergus McFadden, David Kearney; Shaun Berne, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Jason Harris-Wright, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Sean O’Brien.
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Clint Newland, Ed O’Donoghue, Ben Marshall, Paul O’Donohoe, Ian Madigan, Andrew Conway.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/2; Draw: 18/1; Leinster to win: 6/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Nevin Spence (Ulster) – “Ulster is my home province and there is a real sense of loyalty and pride so it’s great that we are doing well and winning games.
“At the start of the season we set out goals to still be alive in Europe and be up in the top four of the Magners League – and we are certainly doing that.
“Playing rugby is always something I want to do and it’s definitely better than having to go to university all the time or getting a job!
“The try at The Rec was a great team score, I think it went through about 20 phases and everyone got a touch so it was nice to finish it off in the corner and get my first score for Ulster.
“t was fortunate for me that Darren Cave’s injury came when it did, one person’s disappointment usually means an opportunity for another. Hopefully between now and when Darren comes back from injury, I can do as well as I can.
“It was nice to be given the opportunity to start against Munster recently. Unfortunately we didn’t win and probably didn’t play the greatest. It was nice to come through that game and do alright but it would of course have been better had we won.
“Matt Banaham is a big man and a couple of times he got big hits on me but it’s all great experience, having Paddy (Wallace) inside is really good because he talks you through things and keeps you calm. Playing against those guys that you used to watch on television is a great experience.”
Jono Gibbes (Leinster) – “”There were a few internal realities within the group after the Clermont game and while we had a positive result, the players understood in the analysis of the game that a few things were not up to scratch,” he said.
“Our defensive lineout work and the try we conceded were pretty poor and although the good work that was done in the 60 minute period allowed us to have a bit of a buffer, we should have been more ruthless.
“We’re facing into the challenge of three tough Magners League games coming up and it’s a pretty fractured playing roster (at this time of year) with guys coming in and out of the squad. Irrespective of who plays, we need to harder on ourselves.
“There will be opportunities for some of the younger players to impress and the coaching team have been pleased with a few of the positive examples of younger guys taking opportunities.
“I think Ulster will pose a massive mental and physical challenge for us and they have been going pretty well recently in the league and especially in their two wins over Bath in the Heineken Cup.
“They have a good hardened core and it will be really important for whoever steps in that they’re up to speed pretty quickly.
“Both times we’ve played up there during my time here have been massively confrontational games. The weather dictated that neither team could have a good crack at each other last season, but the game the previous year was played on a crisp clear night and it was a pretty fiery encounter.
“The lessons that you learn from being involved in interprovincial derbies is that these are the games that no one wants to lose.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Ulster – Points: Niall O’Connor 51; Tries: Craig Gilroy 4; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 90; Tries: Isa Nacewa 4
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, October 24, 2009 – Ulster 16 Leinster 14, Ravenhill
Saturday, December 26, 2009 – Leinster 15 Ulster 3, the RDS
– Ulster have won their last four matches in all competitions since their 16-6 reversal at home to Munster in round 7 of the Magners League
– The Ulstermen are winless in their two games against fellow Irish provinces this season
– Leinster are without a win in their last two Magners League matches. The Leinstermen have won just one away game in the league since last April, beating Connacht 18-6 in Galway on October 23
Ulster’s only win in their last 12 clashes with Leinster since 2004 was a 16-14 victory at Ravenhill on October 24, 2009