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Ulster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Ravenhill, Belfast
Monday, 27th December 2010, 16:00

Television: Live: RTE2

Last week's match was really one of those days to remember for Leinster fans.

Leinster needed to beat Clermont and they did so in such style, that the result was effectively decided with half an hour to go. It was a truly awesome performance, one of Leinster's best ever. We all know what a big team Clermont are, but Leinster upped the stakes physically from the previous week and simply didn't let them play. They combined this with some fantastic attacking rugby and this time when they got to the line, they made sure they finished off their chances. Obviously the lads were reading last week's preview!!

Leinster's dominance was so complete that there was some crabbing afterwards that they didn't score a fourth try for a bonus point! That would have been greedy though. They would have settled for a one point win before the game started, never mind a sixteen point win which denied the French Champions a losing bonus point. Leinster are now totally in charge of the pool but of course there is still work to do. They know though that a bonus point win over Saracens at home will win them the group, provided Racing Metro don't win in Clermont with a bonus point.

That's for January though and in the meantime Leinster have three Magners League fixtures with which they will hope to relaunch their bid to break into the top four. The next two games are at home to Connacht and the Ospreys but first up is a trip to Belfast to face Ulster. Now at the time of writing, it's debatable as to whether the fixture will actually go ahead with the amount of snow that's fallen. Hopefully it will though, because we saw last season the problems caused by fixtures piling up.

Ulster are another team in good spirits due to their performances in the Heineken Cup last week. They beat Bath away to complete the double over them and due to Biarritz's loss away to Aironi the week before; they now just have to beat the Basque team at home to effectively win the group. If they can beat them, they will qualify for the knock-out stages for the first time in twelve years so it will be a massive game. In the mean time they'll want to relaunch a Magners League campaign that has been a little up and down to date.

They were unbeaten for their first five games before losing away to Edinburgh in a disappointing performance. They followed this up with another poor performance when losing to an under strength Munster team at home. It looked like the wheels had come off Ulster's campaign again. However during the Autumn Internationals, they had a superb 37-15 bonus point win away to Cardiff. They had a young team out, but they played some dazzling rugby and actually scored five tries. Academy winger Craig Gilroy made his Ulster debut in that match and scored two tries. He followed that up by grabbing another double when Ulster beat Aironi away 19-9 the following week.

Gilroy looks an outstanding prospect but he's only one of a number of potential gems that Ulster have in their academy. Luke Marshall is another player who's already seen action with the seniors and Paddy Jackson, Chris Cochrane, Michael Heaney and Stephen Leckey are other names to watch out for in the future.

This week, with their Ireland Internationals Tom Court, Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble rested, they've had to dip into their pool of young talent once again. Gilroy starts on the right wing and Marshall is on the bench. Gilroy makes up the back three with Adam D'Arcy, who's proving himself to be an astute signing and Scottish international Simon Danielli. Another promising youngster Nevin Spence is in the centre alongside Ireland International Ian Whitten. After a man of the match performance against Bath, Ian Humphries would have been looking forward to coming back to Ravenhill but an ankle injury has put paid to that. Niall O'Connor takes his place at out-half and it will be interesting to see whether he or scrum-half Ruan Pienaar takes the place kicks.

In the pack yet another young blonde tyro Paddy McAllister comes into the team with Court rested. He makes up a mobile front row with Nigel Brady and BJ Botha. Johann Muller captains the team in the second row alongside Dan Tuohy, who will be looking to make up for lost time after being starved of rugby since impressing for Ireland on the tour in the summer. They have named a massive back row with two South Africans in Pedrie Wannenburg and Robbie Diack and Ireland international Chris Henry at openside. All in all, it's an impressive pack and an exciting backline.

Despite the numerous injuries after the Autumn Internationals and the two tough matches against ASM Clermont in the Heineken cup just completed, Leinster have named a surprisingly strong team with seven changes to the team that beat Clermont last week. In the front row, van der Merwe is rotated back in for Healy and starts alongside Ross and Harris-Wright. In the second row, Cullen again captains the side alongside Toner, with Hines dropping out of the matchday squad completely.  The backrow shows two personnel changes and one positional, O'Brien moves to number eight with Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan at six and seven respectively. It's a very young backrow, but a very dynamic one and it will be interesting to see how they cope against the much bigger Ulstermen.

The backs show two changes and one positional change from last week. The back three shows one change, with Dave Kearney on the left wing, Nacewa at fullback and Horgan on the right.  Fergus McFadden moves to centre to accommodate Kearney and he partners Brian O'Driscoll. The two centres have rarely played centre together and it could be a very interesting combination. At half-back, Boss retains his place and is partnered by Shaun Berne.

This should be a very interesting match with both sides naming a mixture of experience and youth in their teams. The battle of the backrows will be interesting and could be the most critical area within the game.  If Leinster can get on top here, their back-line should have enough experience to shade the match.

Team Lineups

Ulster Rugby
Leinster Rugby
Teams Adam D'Arcy
15 Isa Nacewa
Craig Gilroy
14 Shane Horgan
Nevin Spence
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Ian Whitten
12 Fergus McFadden
Simon Danielli
11 Dave Kearney
Niall O'Connor
10 Shaun Berne
Ruan Pienaar
9 Isaac Boss

Paddy McAllister
1 Heinke van der Merwe
Nigel Brady
2 Jason Harris-Wright
BJ Botha
3 Mike Ross
Johann Muller (C)
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Dan Tuohy
5 Devin Toner
Pedrie Wannenburg
6 Rhys Ruddock
Chris Henry
7 Dominic Ryan
Robbie Diack
8 Sean O'Brien

Replacements Andi Kyriacou
16 Aaron Dundon
Declan Fitzpatrick
17 Jack McGrath
Bryan Young
18 Clint Newland
Tim Barker 19 Ed O'Donoghue
Willie Faloon 20 Ben Marshall
Paul Marshall 21 Paul O'Donohue
Luke Marshall 22 Ian Madigan
Tommy Seymour 23 Andrew Conway
Not Considered
due to Injury
Rory Best,
Stephen Ferris,
Ian Humphries

Stan Wright,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Rob Kearney,
Paul Ryan

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-12-26