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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Leinster

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Ulster v Leinster

Ulster wrap up the league phase of the RaboDirect PRO12 with two juicy interprovincial derbies, the first of which sees them hosting table toppers Leinster on an historic night for the redeveloped Ravenhill.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, May 2

ULSTER (4th) v LEINSTER (1st), Ravenhill, 7.30pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTÉ Two)

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Team News: Jared Payne will return from suspension as one of three changes to Ulster’s starting line-up for the visit of provincial rivals Leinster to Ravenhill.

Mark Anscombe has named Payne at outside centre for the sold-out clash against the league leaders, which will also act as the official opening of the newly redeveloped Ravenhill.

Other changes to the Ulster team from the loss to Glasgow Warriors two weeks ago include Andrew Warwick’s selection at tighthead prop and Roger Wilson returns from injury in the back row.

Ireland caps Paul Marshall, Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall will play inside Payne, with Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Ricky Andrew continuing in the back-three.

Warwick will be joined in the front row by hooker Rob Herring and Tom Court, who will play possibly his last match for Ulster at Ravenhill.

Retiring captain Johann Muller, who will find himself in a similar situation to Court on Friday night, is again joined in the engine room by Iain Henderson.

Wilson’s inclusion at blindside flanker means Chris Henry will switch to the other side of the scrum, while Nick Williams will remain at the base.

International second row Dan Tuohy returns from injury to be named among the replacements. Niall Annett, Callum Black and Adam Macklin provide front row support on the bench, with Sean Doyle covering the back row.

Michael Heaney, James McKinney and Darren Cave are the reserve backs at head coach Anscombe’s disposal.

Muller, who is likely to make his final Ravenhill appearance on Friday after announcing his intentions to retire at the end of the season, was keen to thank the people of Ulster for helping to make his time in the province so memorable.

“It is no secret that the last four years are possibly the best of my rugby career. I have just enjoyed it so much,” he said.

“My family has been so happy in Belfast and the people of Northern Ireland have been absolutely outstanding to my family and I. We have loved it here.”

The interprovincial derby fixture, along with the opening ceremony of the redeveloped stadium, will be live on BBC 2 Northern Ireland and RTÉ Two from 7pm.

Meanwhile, there are four changes to the Leinster team that accounted for Benetton Treviso last time out and there is also a welcome return to the bench for Luke Fitzgerald.

The front and second rows are unchanged with Cian Healy, hooker Sean Cronin and Martin Moore lining out together and Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy locking down behind them. Cronin and Moore will win their 70th and 30th provincial caps respectively.

Shane Jennings comes in for Jordi Murphy in a back row unit which is completed by Rhys Ruddock and Jamie Heaslip who captains the side from the base of the scrum.

Rob Kearney continues at full-back with Zane Kirchner on the right wing but there is a change on the left where Dave Kearney replaces Darragh Fanning, the man-of-the-match from the Treviso game.

Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll are together once again in the centre with Noel Reid the man to make way for D’Arcy following his two-try performance against the Italians.

In the half-back positions, Ian Madigan dons the number 10 jersey in place of Jimmy Gopperth with Isaac Boss beside him at scrum half.

With the situation at the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 extremely tight, Leinster and Ulster both know that a win for either side would offer clarity as they enter the final round of the regular season next week.

In the corresponding fixture in December at a sold-out RDS Leinster won with 13 points to spare on a scoreline of 19-6. Jordi Murphy scored the only try of the game after 37 minutes with Gopperth kicking the rest of the points.

ULSTER: Ricky Andrew; Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne, Luke Marshall, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Johann Muller (capt), Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Niall Annett, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Dan Tuohy, Sean Doyle, Michael Heaney, James McKinney, Darren Cave.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Ian Madigan, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Martin Moore, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Jimmy Gopperth, Luke Fitzgerald.

Referee: Luke Pearce (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, David Connolly (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 10/11; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 10/11

Pre-Match Quotes: Johann Muller (Ulster) – “It doesn’t matter whether it is your last game or first game or your first season or last season you always want to go out and win a trophy.

“I can promise you one thing, the 23 players will leave the field after the game having given absolutely everything to make that a reality. You cannot can ask for more.

“A couple of months ago I thought I had plenty of time left, now the big day has arrived my two little ones will run out with me tonight, so it’s going to be really emotional.

“It is wonderful how the Northern Ireland people have accepted and embraced me and my family and it has been truly humbling for us to play as foreigners over here.

“I would have loved to play for another three, four or five years but my body made the decision for me. At the end of the day it was a really easy decision to make.

“I’m going back onto the family farm and I want to find my feet to see what I have time for and don’t have time for.

“Without a doubt you’ll see me back here every single year, I’ll come back and sit in the stand and be a supporter of this great province and I’m looking forward to that.”

Sean Cronin (Leinster) – “It’s a big derby game. They always have their own added bit of spice. The fact that the seedings for the play-offs are coming even closer, I presume it’s going to be a very tight tough game – they always are.

“We’re trying to prepare as best we can. Ravenhill’s always a tough place to go. They’re pushing for the semi-final place just like we are.

“We know that if we go up there and if we put in a performance and can get a win, we’re well on our way to getting a home semi-final place at the least.

“These derbies with any of the provinces have their own added bit of pressure. It’s the opening of their ground, it’s going to be a great atmosphere. Their supporters are very vocal.

“I think that Ulster have developed one of the strongest squads in Europe over the last number of years. There are a few injuries there but I think there’s quality across the board.

“It’s very hard to pick out weaknesses, especially when you see the types of lads that they can bring in for the injuries that they have. They’re a very well-rounded team in terms of their back play and forward play, so it’s going to be extremely tough.”

Top Scorers – 2013/14 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 154; Tries: Darren Cave, Tommy Bowe 5 each; Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 140; Tries: Noel Reid 7


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
Saturday, December 28, 2013 – Leinster 19 Ulster 6, the RDS


– Ulster, who are bidding to reach the play-offs for a second successive year, have only lost once at home in the RaboDirect PRO12 this season (13-12 against Glasgow Warriors in their opening home game)

– Leinster are chasing a home semi-final for a fifth successive year since the league play-offs were introduced

– The Leinstermen’s only defeat in their last ten PRO12 fixtures was at the Ospreys in round 19

– Ulster’s only two victories over Leinster in their last 11 encounters in all competitions came in both regular season PRO12 fixtures in the 2012/13 campaign

– Leinster have lost on only two of their nine most recent visits to Ravenhill, and have not lost back-to-back matches at Ulster’s citadel since 1992