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Magners Semi-Final Preview: Leinster v Ulster

Magners Semi-Final Preview: Leinster v Ulster

Provincial bragging rights will be put to one side at the RDS tonight as Leinster and Ulster battle it out for a prized place in the Magners League grand final. Home advantage and their excellent European form suggest that Leinster will pull through, but Ulster are more than capable of springing a surprise.


LEINSTER (2nd) v ULSTER (3rd), the RDS, 7.05pm (live TG4/BBC 2 Northern Ireland)

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Team News: Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt has made eight changes in personnel and one positional switch to the team that secured a bonus point victory over Glasgow Warriors last time out.

Brian O’Driscoll will make his 150th Leinster appearance and he partners Gordon D’Arcy in a back-line which includes six Ireland internationals.

Fergus McFadden, who kicked 18 points in the 38-3 win over Glasgow last Friday, moves to the right wing in a back-three which includes Luke Fitzgerald and Isa Nacewa.

Former Ulster scrum half Isaac Boss starts at half-back alongside Jonathan Sexton, who comes in for the benched Ian Madigan.

Cian Healy will have his 50th Magners League runout for Leinster, having been named in the front row alongside Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross.

Leo Cullen captains the side and starts in the second row alongside Nathan Hines with Shane Jennings, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip completing the pack.

Heinke van der Merwe has been named on the replacements bench alongside Ireland internationals Kevin McLaughlin, Eoin Reddan and Devin Toner.

Discussing Friday’s interprovincial derby, Leinster’s consultant scrum coach Greg Feek said: “Last week against Glasgow we let ourselves down a bit (in the scrum). I was a bit disappointed after the weekend.

“Good teams need to be at a level every week. Against Ulster this week, they’re a difficult pack and we can’t afford to have any more up-and-down periods.

“We’re demanding from the boys and the boys themselves are demanding to get our stuff right, the little things right and the attitude right.

“This is a knockout game and we want to win it. Ulster are a team you have to respect. They have Rory Best up front, they will be missing BJ (Botha) but they have got good loose forwards and (Johann) Muller’s there as well.

“He strengthens their set piece and they have got a good half-back obviously in (Ruan) Pienaar as well. We’ll need to be on our game to beat them.”

Meanwhile, head coach Brian McLaughlin has made just one change to the starting line-up for Ulster’s semi-final showdown with Leinster.

Tim Barker comes in to replace Dan Tuohy who injured a hamstring against the Dragons last weeked and has been ruled out after an MRI scan.

Barker will partner the newly-crowned Ulster Rugby Personality of the Year Johann Muller in the second row. Neil McComb has been added to the replacements bench.

For their second knockout match of the season, Ulster will be without the services of flanker Willie Faloon who injured his shoulder in training two weeks ago. He will undergo surgery today to repair a torn rotator cuff.

Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry and Robbie Diack are retained in the back row and it promises to be a physical battle at the breakdown against Leinster’s much-lauded loose forwards.

Ruan Pienaar, who was crowned Magners League Player of the Year last Sunday, and Ian Humphreys continue as the province’s starting half-backs.

Previewing the semi-final, loosehead prop Tom Court said: “We are going down to Dublin under no illusions. Leinster are playing fantastic rugby, but if you get on top of them early I think they’ll realise they’re not as good as everyone tells them they are.

“They are definitely beatable and we saw that (last month) against Munster in Limerick. To have any sort of chance against Leinster you need to combat them physically for those first 20 to 30 minutes.

“You need to be starting well with huge physicality, match them up front and make them realise you’re here for a game and that it’s not just going to be a Sevens match.

“We gave it a good rattle for 60 minutes (against Northampton), so obviously for us it’s now about getting in the same place but making sure we hold out for the last 20 minutes.

“Leinster are a very good rugby team with great players but it’s a one-off game and on the day I think if Ulster get in the right place and get the physicality up, then we’re definitely in with a chance.”

LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Heinke van der Merwe, Stan Wright, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, David Kearney.

ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar: Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Chris Henry, Robbie Diack.

Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Jerry Cronin, Neil McComb, Thomas Anderson, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Conor Gaston.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/6; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 9/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Leinster) – “There is a risk of taking your eye off the ball because of the Heineken Cup final the following week, but we have to take each game as it comes.

“It is imperative to concentrate on this game (against Ulster) and not to look too far ahead. We haven’t conceded a match all season at The RDS and we are very focused on continuing that record.

“Even though we have beaten Ulster twice this season, in the last 30 minutes of both fixtures they have had the better of us.

“At this stage it is only about managing two games, because we don’t know if we will make it into the Magners League grand final. If we go on to make it three games then we will glue together what’s left.

“The good thing is that four or five weeks ago we didn’t think we were going to make it into the league play-offs. But we picked up and other results went our way, and we have ended with a home game against Ulster in the semi-finals.

“The difference about playing Ulster now is there is something at stake because it is a knockout situation.”

Ian Humphreys (Ulster) – “We definitely believe we are in with a shout of winning the competition. We are not satisfied with just getting to where we are now. We want to go ahead and win.

“The performance (against Leinster) a few weeks ago opened our eyes. Leinster blew us away in the first 25 minutes. There was no coming back.

“When we play top sides we have to go from the off or it will be an uphill struggle. On any day Leinster are pretty strong and they have shown whatever players they have put in this season they have been up to the job.

“But I don’t want to blow them up too much. Last match we let ourselves down. We think we owe them one.

“We’ve been without Stevie (Ferris) for a while. Sure he’s a game breaker and a talisman for this Ulster team, but we’ve players who have come in.

“Cavey (Darren Cave) and Nevin (Spence) have both shown how good they are. Paddy (Wallace) is out and Cavey’s back. It’s not ideal but we think we’ve built a squad. Every squad has to perform with injury. We’re no different.

“I think for us to be taken seriously the Leinster game is the kind of game where we need to perform and show that we are capable of playing with the bigger teams.”

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 142; Tries: Shane Horgan 8; Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 119; Tries: Craig Gilroy 8


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
Monday, December 27, 2010 – Ulster 13 Leinster 30, Ravenhill
Saturday, April 16, 2011 – Leinster 34 Ulster 26, the RDS


– Leinster have won six of their last seven matches against Ulster. The Ulstermen have not beaten Leinster in Dublin since a 26-15 victory at Donnybrook on August 13, 1999

– Leinster host a second successive home semi-final in the Magners League. Last season’s finalists have won their last five matches in all competitions

– Leinster have lost just once in the Magners League at the RDS since September 2008, going down 17-12 to the Ospreys in last season’s grand final

– Ulster return to the RDS, the scene of their only loss in their last nine games in the Magners League, a 34-26 defeat on April 16

– The Ulstermen have won just one encounter against fellow Irish provinces this season, beating connacht 27-16 at home on April 22