Ulster face a ‘must win’ scenario against Leinster tonight if they are to hold onto their hopes of claiming a RaboDirect PRO12 play-off spot. The fact that this interprovincial tussle comes just a week before both sides’ Heineken Cup semi-finals adds even more spice.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Friday, April 20
ULSTER (5th) v LEINSTER (1st), Ravenhill, 7.05pm (live BBC 2 Northern Ireland/RTÉ Two)
Team News: Ulster have recalled a number of frontline players to their team for Friday’s RaboDirect PRO12 derby match against Leinster at Ravenhil.
Head coach Brian McLaughlin has made nine personnel changes and a further two positional switches to the team which lost 26-21 to Connacht last weekend.
But there is no place for rested Ireland internationals Stephen Ferris and Rory Best, who last played for the province in their memorable Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster.
Willie Faloon, Nigel Brady, Lewis Stevenson, Tom Court, Stefan Terblanche and Paddy Jackson are the only survivors from the side that started in Galway.
Jackson has moved from inside centre to out-half in place of Ian Humphreys, with Paddy Wallace occupying the vacated spot in midfield alongside regular centre partner Darren Cave. Ruan Pienaar and Andrew Trimble also return to the starting back-line.
Up front, Court is named in his more familiar loosehead prop position after starting in the tighthead role at the Sportsground.
Declan Fitzpatrick will wear the number 3 jersey after making a welcome return from a neck injury – this will be his first taste of action in almost five months.
Johann Muller is back to captain the Ulstermen from second row where he is partnered by Stevenson, while Pedrie Wannenburg and Chris Henry are recalled to the back row alongside Faloon.
Adam Macklin remains among the replacements as front row cover, while Ian Porter makes a return to the matchday squad with fellow scrum half Paul Marshall ruled out with an elbow injury sustained against Connacht.
Meanwhile, the Leinster team to play Ulster includes 13 Ireland-qualified players – among them is scrum half Eoin Reddan, who links up with Jonathan Sexton at half-back for his 60th appearance for the province.
Luke Fitzgerald is named in the back-three alongside the Kearney brothers, Rob and David.
Unfortunately, Eoin O’Malley was a late withdrawal this morning after a recurrence of his calf strain forced him from the training pitch, thus Fergus McFadden, earning his 70th Leinster cap, will partner Brian O’Driscoll in the centre.
Up front, Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross start in the front row, with All Black Brad Thorn locking down alongside skipper Leo Cullen.
Kevin McLaughlin, who will also be making his 70th Leinster appearance, joins fellow ex-Gonzaga College student Dominic Ryan in the back row alongside the returning Sean O’Brien who starts at number 8.
If Ireland scrum half Isaac Boss, one of four Ireland internationals on the bench, is used as a replacement it will be his 50th outing for Leinster.
ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Lewis Stevenson, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Neil McComb, Robbie Diack, Ian Porter, Ian Humphreys, Adam D’Arcy.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; David Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Brad Thorn, Kevin McLaughlin, Dominic Ryan, Sean O’Brien.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Fionn Carr.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Peter Fitzgibbon, Olly Hodges (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 13/10; Draw: 18/1; Leinster to win: 8/13
Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “I’m delighted with the team Leinster are sending up. It will provide a great test for us going into the semi-final against Edinbugh next week.
“With the likes of Leo Cullen and Kevin McLaughlin involved, they are sure to have a very good lineout. It will also be brilliant to see a World Cup winner like Brad Thorn run out at Ravenhill.
“Rory (Best) and Stevie (Ferris) have had a tough year since January with the Six Nations among other things, so it’s important to make sure they are looked after properly.
“Dan (Tuohy) has a slight irritation with his neck and we took the opportunity to rest him as a precaution, but he will be fine for next week too.
“Declan (Fitzpatrick) had a great week in training and scrummed very well in the practice sessions. He has been unfortunate with injuries over the past couple of seasons but he’s been around for a long time and he can do a job.
“We had a good look at Tom (Court) and Adam (Macklin) in that role last week against Connacht and we felt it was only fair to give Declan a run.
“With Paul Marshall injured it means we will have to have two out-halves in the squad, so it makes sense to give Paddy (Jackson) a start at 10 this week.
“He played exceptionally well at Connacht last week and it will be interesting to see how he gets on against a very good Leinster team.”
Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster) – “It is a massive game this weekend against Ulster. They made 12 changes from the weekend (against Connacht), so they are going to come out all guns blazing and they have got a semi-final the following week.
“There are a lot of sub-plots to this game as it is an interpro match – they need the win and both teams need the win before going into the big match the following week.
“I suppose you hope the best is yet to come. We know there’s so much work to do between now and the end of the season.
“What has gotten us here has been good enough to get us here but it won’t be good enough to get us further down the road. Work, work, work is the name of the game for the rest of the season and that starts at Ulster this weekend.
“They are showing exactly what they are capable of with a win at Thomond (in the Heineken Cup) and then with 12 changes nearly turning Connacht over at the Sportsground.
“It is going to be an interpro game which is always a massive, massive match but there’s always that undercurrent of bragging rights, wanting to get one over on the guys you are playing against for positions.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 109; Tries: Darren Cave 5; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 120; Tries: Ian Madigan 7
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Friday, May 13, 2011 – Semi-final – Leinster 18 Ulster 3, the RDS
Monday, December 26, 2011 – Leinster 42 Ulster 13, the RDS
– Ulster’s defeat at Connacht in round 20 ended their four-match winning run in the RaboDirect PRO12
– The Ulstermen’s only loss at Ravenhill in their last 20 matches in all competitions was to Benetton Treviso on October 17
– Leinster have already ensured top seeding and a home semi-final in the RaboDirect PRO12
– The Leinstermen have suffered just one reversal in any competition since September, going down 23-22 at home to the Ospreys on March 23
– A Leinster win would ensure a first clean sweep by an Irish province in a season – winning all six interprovincial clashes
– Ulster’s only victory over Leinster in their last 16 meetings since May 2004 was a 16-14 triumph at Ravenhill in October 2009