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RaboDirect PRO12 Final Preview: Ulster v Leinster

RaboDirect PRO12 Final Preview: Ulster v Leinster

An Irish province is guaranteed to win the RaboDirect PRO12, but who will be declared champions come Saturday night in Dublin? Will Ulster finish a season that began so well for them with league silverware, or can Leinster complete a famous double in Joe Schmidt’s final game in charge?

RABODIRECT PRO12 FINAL: Saturday, May 25

ULSTER (1st) v LEINSTER (2nd), the RDS, 4.45pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/TG4/RTÉ Two/BBC ALBA/BBC 2 Wales/SportItalia 2)

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Team News: John Afoa will start at tighthead prop in the only change to the Ulster team for Saturday’s RaboDirect PRO12 final against Leinster at the RDS.

Afoa missed the semi-final win over the Scarlets with a hamstring strain, but has been passed fit for the climax of the league aseason.

The All Black prop will Ireland’s summer tour captain, Rory Best, and Tom Court in the front row, while Ulster’s regular captain Johann Muller continues his partnership with Dan Tuohy in the second row.

Robbie Diack and Chris Henry start either side of the scrum with the RaboDirect PRO12 Players’ Player of the Year, Nick Williams, selected at number 8.

Ruan Pienaar starts at scrum half, with Paddy Jackson named at out-half. The 20-year-old Stuart Olding partners Darren Cave in midfield with Lions winger Tommy Bowe joining Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne in the back-three.

Commenting on his selection, Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe said: “It’s great to be able to welcome John back into the starting line-up. John and players like Ruan (Pienaar) and Johann (Muller) have been part of World Cup winning squads.

“When the big moments come, they are cool heads under pressure and you can’t put a price on that. When you put them together with our Ireland internationals and our excellent young players like Stuart Olding then you have a great mix.

“However, Leinster are a quality team and we have a huge amount of respect for them. They will ask a lot of questions of us and we will have to play at our very best to beat them.

“This is a massive match, a local derby and it is an occasion that everyone at Ulster is looking forward to. In recent seasons Ulster have been the bridesmaids too often. We have done our learning – it’s now time to step up and to prove that we are good enough.”

Meanwhile, the Leinster team to face Ulster in the final interprovincial derby of the season has been named.

Isa Nacewa will make his 126th and final Leinster appearance on Saturday and he starts in a back-three combination which features Fergus McFadden and full-back Rob Kearney.

McFadden’s positional switch caters for the return of Brian O’Driscoll who, having overcome a back injury, starts alongside Ian Madigan in the centre.

Isaac Boss makes his 25th appearance of the season and will partner Jonathan Sexton at half-back, with the Ireland out-half earning his 110th provincial cap (having scored 1,013 points to date).

Up front, Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss return to the starting line-up after coming on as replacements in the Amlin Challenge Cup final victory last weekend.

The team will be led by the returning Leo Cullen who partners Devin Toner in the second row.

Kevin McLaughlin, meanwhile, returns to the back row in place of Sean O’Brien (bruised knee) who has failed to recover from injury.

McLaughlin will form an experienced back row unit alongside Shane Jennings, who is set to make his 175th appearance, and number 8 Jamie Heaslip.

ULSTER: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Michael Allen, Peter Nelson.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Ian Madigan, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Jamie Hagan, Quinn Roux, Rhys Ruddock, John Cooney, Andrew Goodman, Andrew Conway.

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

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 13/8; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 4/7

Pre-Match Quotes: Rory Best (Ulster) – ” We talked about doing things this year that Ulster haven’t done. We went to France and won, we went down to Dublin and won for the first time in 13 years. It’s been a good season, but it’s all for nothing if we don’t lift the trophy on Saturday.

“When you go down to a quality side like Leinster and you produce a performance and get a win like we did in March – it was a performance where 50 or 60 minutes we played very well, but also for 20 minutes we showed a lot of desire and hunger in defence. They’re a quality side and we were able to hold them out.

“We believe we can (beat Leinster for a third time this season). It’s going to be a slightly different atmosphere. We’re going to have a lot more supporters there than we had back in March. We’re very confident with the team we put out, that if we turn up and perform then we can beat anyone.

“It’ll be a tough ask but, at the end of the day, we’ve had a lot of tough asks this season and we’ve stepped up and produced.”

Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster) – “Ulster have gotten better. They brought in a couple of big performers. Nick Williams has been a revelation for them. Tommy (Bowe) coming back has just given them that extra dimension. Jared Payne at 15 has been phenomenal.

“They probably could have had a few guys in the running for Rabo Player of the Year. Their consistency has shown they deserve to be top of the pile at the end of the regular season, before knockout.

“The spirits are high (in our camp after winning the Challenge Cup), but we won’t rely on high spirits to win this game. It will be sleeves up. Clarity is what we need. That is going to win us or lose us the game.

“It was the manner in which we lost the game (last year’s league final against the Ospreys). We were in control of it. We were nine points up with eight minutes to play and you should usually have the ability to see out those sorts of games.

“So we lacked the ability to close it out. It was sickening the manner in which it happened and took the shine off our (Heineken Cup) victory the previous week. I wouldn’t say it stayed with me for the year or that it haunts me, but I look back on it as one that got away.”

Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 154; Tries: Andrew Trimble 10; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 186; Tries: Ian Madigan 6


Saturday, April 16, 2011 – Leinster 34 Ulster 26, the RDS
Friday, May 13, 2011 – Semi-final – Leinster 18 Ulster 3, the RDS
Monday, December 26, 2011 – Leinster 42 Ulster 13, the RDS
Friday, April 20, 2012 – Ulster 8 Leinster 16, Ravenhill
Friday, December 21, 2012 – Ulster 27 Leinster 19, Ravenhill
Saturday, March 30, 2013 – Leinster 18 Ulster 22, the RDS


– Ulster, who finished top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table this season, attempt to become only the second number one seeds to win the play-off final after Munster did so in 2010/11

– The Ulstermen have won their last five RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures since their 14-8 reversal at Edinburgh on March 22 March

– Ulster have won two of the three previous finals they have contested in all competitions, one of those being played in Dublin: the 1999 European Cup final at the old Lansdowne Road, beating Colomiers 21-6

– Ulster are aiming for a second PRO12 crown, the previous one being gained in 2005/06, before the introduction of the play-offs

– Leinster became only the second PRO12 side to win the Amlin Challenge Cup, after Cardiff Blues in 2009/10, when they beat Stade Francais at the RDS last Friday night

– The Leinstermen’s only loss in their last 17 encounters in all tournaments since December 21 was 22-18 to Ulster at the RDS in the PRO12 on 30 March

– This is Leinster’s fourth successive PRO12 final, but they are yet to actually win one. This is in marked contrast to their form in European finals where they have a played 4, won 4 record

– Leinster have lost just once at the RDS in any tournament this season, to Ulster in round 19 of the PRO12

– Ulster achieved a league double over Leinster for the first time this season, including a first ever victory at the RDS

– Leinster, however, won the only previous final the two have contested: 42-14 in last season’s Heineken Cup final at Twickenham