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Ulster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Ravenhill, Belfast
Friday, 26 October 2007, 19:30

Back to basics!  With the World Cup over, provincial rugby fans can now concentrate on their provinces until the Six Nations starts.  Given the way Ireland have performed recently, most will be glad of the break.  However, with the hangover from the poor performance in France still present, what better way to stir the blood and clear the head than a good old-fashioned local derby?

Uster versus Leinster at Ravenhill always has a special intensity to it and in recent years that's only grown with the increased travelling support from down South.  Leinster's record in Ravenhill for the last three years is actually very good, two wins and a draw from the last three visits.  The Ulster team will be itching to break up that successful streak.

Last season was a strange one for Ulster.  As defending champions they were looking to defend their Magners League crown plus they wanted to progress beyond the Heineken Cup groups stages for the first time since they won the competition.  It was all looking so good when they thumped Toulouse 30-3 at home.  Then a number of Ulster players featured prominently in the Autumn internationals and Ulster's stock seemed at it's highest in years.

For whatever reason their season pretty much collapsed after that though.  Some Ulster fans thought that maybe some of the players started believing their own hype and there were rumours of unrest in the dressing room.  A Heineken Cup campaign that began with such promise reached it's nadir with a 35-11 thumping from Llanelli at Ravenhill, while the challenge for a second Magners League title fell apart long before the end.

At the end of the season, Coach Mark McCall's job was apparently in jeopardy.  In the end McCall survived, but his assistant Allen Clarke did not, former Welsh international Steve Williams replacing him.  Ulster have not had the greatest start to the season.  After beating the Ospreys in their first game at home, they have since been well beaten by Edinburgh, The Dragons and Llanelli and currently lie bottom of the table.  Some of their internationals featured two weeks ago against the Scarlets, but now they have their full allocation back.

Scottish International centre Rob Dewey makes his debut for Ulster and will partner Andrew Trimble in midfield.  They're both big, quick men and Ulster could look to build their season around this pairing.  Tommy Bowe moves from the centre back to his more accustomed position on the right wing with Mark Bartholomeusz dropping to the bench.  On the left wing impressive youngster Mark McCrea replaces Simon Danelli.  Isaac Boss & Paddy Wallace continue their efforts to forge a partnership at half-back while a fit again David Humphries provides an experienced option from the bench.

In the pack, captain Rory Best makes his first start of the season.  Justin Fitzpatrick starts at loose-head with Bryan Young moving across to tight-head.  Ryan Caldwell, who impressed for the Ireland 'A' team during the summer in the Churchill cup, starts in the second row alongside Italian international Carlos Del Fava.  Neil Best returns to the back-row, replacing the injured Matt McCullough while Kieron Dawson gets the nod over Neil McMillan at open-side.  Number eight Stephen Ferris completes a strong, if somewhat unfamiliar looking pack.  Justin Harrison and Roger Wilson have to be content with places on the bench.

For Leinster the big guns are back.  Rob Kearney, Shane Horgan and Jonny Sexton are the only survivors from the backline that started against Glasgow.  Girvan Dempsey, Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy all make their first starts since the World Cup and Chris Whitaker returns from injury to replace Cillian Willis at scrum-half.  Felipe Contepomi is given the week off after his exertions in France for Argentina.

In the pack former Springbok Ollie Le Roux comes straight in to start at loose-head prop.  Michael Chieka will hope the Leinster scrum will feel the immediate benefit of his experience, especially as he's scrummaging against Bryan Young who's more used to the other side of the scrum.  In the second row Malcolm O'Kelly partners the fit-again Leo Cullen.  After problems with the lineout against Glasgow, hopefully this very experienced pair will steady the ship.  Jamie Heaslip returns from injury to replace Kevin McLaughlin at number eight in the only change to the back-row.

With all the changes on both sides this is a hard game to call.  It all depends on how quickly the returning internationals on both teams settle back in.  But hopefully the intensity of the rivalry will focus Leinster minds and that will drive them on to an important win.

Team Lineups
  Ulster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Teams Bryn Cunningham 15 Girvan Dempsey
Tommy Bowe 14 Shane Horgan
Andrew Trimble 13 Brian O'Driscoll (C)
Rob Dewey 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Mark McCrea 11 Rob Kearney
Paddy Wallace 10 Jonathan Sexton
Isaac Boss 9 Chris Whitaker
Justin Fitzpatrick 1 Ollie le Roux
Rory Best (C) 2 Bernard Jackman
Bryan Young 3 Stephen Knoop
Carlo Del Fava 4 Leo Cullen
Ryan Caldwell 5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Neil Best 6 Stephen Keogh
Kieron Dawson 7 Shane Jennings
Stephen Ferris 8 Jamie Heaslip
Replacements Nigel Brady 16 Brian Blaney
Declan Fitzpatrick 17 Stanley Wright
Justin Harrison 18 Devin Toner
Roger Wilson 19 Keith Gleeson
Paul Marshall 20 Cillian Willis
David Humphreys 21 Christian Warner
Mark Bartholomeusz 22 Luke Fitzgerald
Not Considered
due to Injury
    Ronnie McCormack
Trevor Hogan

Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Sub Referee: L Colgan (IRFU)
Touch Judge: T Horkan (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-10-25