Leinster and Ulster meet for the first time since last May’s RaboDirect PRO12 final at the RDS, with the hosts and defending champions looking to rediscover their winning touch after two successive defeats.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, December 28
LEINSTER (5th) v ULSTER (4th), the RDS, 6.45pm (live RTÉ Two/BBC 2 Northern Ireland)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Ulster in the first of two upcoming RaboDirect PRO12 derby matches has been announced.
With all tickets sold out and a fantastic atmosphere expected, head coach Matt O’Connor has retained nine of last weekend’s starting line-up for the visit of Ulster to the RDS.
Back in from their pre-Christmas training camp with the Ireland squad come Dave Kearney, Mike McCarthy and Sean O’Brien, while Jimmy Gopperth replaces Ian Madigan at out-half.
Brendan Macken is promoted from the bench to take his place in the centre beside Noel Reid who retains his place at number 12, while Rhys Ruddock replaces Kevin McLaughlin.
Zane Kirchner continues at full back, with Luke Fitzgerald and Isaac Boss also retained on the left wing and at scrum half respectively.
There are no changes in the front row with Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon and Martin Moore once again selected. Leo Cullen captains the side from the second row with McCarthy partnering him.
Finally, Jordi Murphy is again named at number 8 with Ruddock and O’Brien completing the back row.
Tullow man O’Brien makes a welcome return from injury and comes in for only his second RaboDirect PRO12 appearance of the season.
Meanwhile, Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe has made nine personnel changes and three positional switches to the team for Saturday evening’s interprovincial match.
Six of the seven starting backs are Ireland internationals, with Paul Marshall partnering Paddy Jackson at half-back, Luke Marshall and Darren Cave starting in midfield and Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy selected on the wings.
Ricky Andrew, who played against Zebre in the last round at Ravenhill, keeps his place at full-back.
Callum Black makes his 50th appearance for the province and starts at loosehead prop, with Rob Herring coming in at hooker and Declan Fitzpatrick selected at tighthead.
Lewis Stevenson wears the number 4 jersey and will have the returning Dan Tuohy alongside him in the second row.
Robbie Diack is named as captain for the game and moves to blindside flanker. Sean Doyle continues at openside flanker and Roger Wilson, who has recovered from injury, comes back in at number 8.
Tom Court, Ruan Pienaar and Jared Payne are named as replacements alongside Niall Annett, Ricky Lutton, Neil McComb, Mike McComish and Michael Allen.
LEINSTER: Zane Kirchner; Dave Kearney, Brendan Macken, Noel Reid, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen (capt), Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien, Jordi Murphy.
Replacements: James Tracy, Mike Ross, Jack O’Connell, Tom Denton, Dominic Ryan, Luke McGrath, Ian Madigan, Darragh Fanning.
ULSTER: Ricky Andrew; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Callum Black, Rob Herring, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack (capt), Sean Doyle, Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Niall Annett, Tom Court, Ricky Lutton, Neil McComb, Mike McComish, Ruan Pienaar, Jared Payne, Michael Allen.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Eddie Hogan O’Connell (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/2; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 13/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Matt O’Connor (Leinster) – “It’s (a) pivotal (game) in the league, it’s pivotal in the momentum building in to the next interprovincial game and then ultimately the Heineken Cup (rounds 5 and 6).
“Both teams understand the importance of it. We need to put out a really good performance that is indicative of winning the game.
“It’s been a disappointing few weeks for us. We’ve had some robust conversations in relation to what went wrong.
“The pleasing thing is that we’ve been below par – we haven’t played anywhere near how we know we can and we’ve been within a play of winning the game.
“To be playing at the Aviva to win the game on the last play, to be playing at Edinburgh to win the game is positive, but we’ve got to make sure we are better than that over the course of the game.
“(Ulster) were probably a little bit complacent (against Zebre), the conditions weren’t great and they thought they were going to do it easy.
“Zebre have shown over the past six weeks that they’re a better side than people have given them credit for. I don’t think it was much more than that.
“Ulster still had the composure to get the result at the end of the day and they’ve been in pretty good form.”
Paul Marshall (Ulster) – “Certainly with the position that Munster are in with the run they’ve had they’re in a good position, Leinster are always there are there abouts and in the last couple of years we have pushed on.
“It’s certainly competitive when the Irish provinces play against each other and there is always an added incentive to try and get one up on those guys.
“When you look at our record over the last few years down there (in Dublin), our record wasn’t great and you need to break you duck at some time.
“It was a great performance down there last March to win, we were disappointed with how the final went but it doesn’t hold any fear for us.
“I think when we turn up and play well we can beat any team in the league home or away, but it comes down to our own mind set. As you saw last week we were probably a wee bit off and didn’t put Zebre away the way we would have liked to, but we know if we’re in the right place mentally we’ll be fine.
“Leinster have lost their last couple of games and they don’t usually go on a run where they lose too many games in a row and they will do everything they can to stop that.
“We’ve had five on the bounce so we’ll want to continue that. It’s a big few weeks and it doesn’t get much bigger that Leinster and Munster and rounds five and six of the Heineken Cup. It’s an exciting time for everybody to be involved.”
Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 66; Tries: Dave Kearney, Noel Reid, Jack McGrath 2 each; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 76; Tries: Michael Allen 3
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, May 25, 2013 – Final – Leinster 24 Ulster 18, the RDS
– Leinster have slipped to back-to-back defeats, against Northampton Saints in the Heineken Cup and Edinburgh in the RaboDirect PRO12
– The Leinstermen’s lone defeat at the RDS since the 2012 PRO12 final was 22-18 to Ulster in this equivalent fixture last season (played on March 30), it represents Leinster’s only home defeat to a fellow Irish province since 2008
– Ulster won a fifth successive game in all competitions with their 13-6 home defeat of Zebre last Friday
– Ulster’s only loss on the road since September was 17-9 at the Scarlets on November 2. Ulster have won their last three away games in the regular season against fellow Irish provinces
– Ulster won both regular season encounters against Leinster in the PRO12 last season, but when they met for a third time in the 2013 final (for which Ulster, as top seeds, nominated the RDS as their preferred venue) Leinster gained revenge with a 24-18 triumph
– The Ulstermen have won on only one of their eight previous visits to the RDS