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Ulster vs Leinster Rugby,
Ravenhill, Belfast
02nd December 2006, 19:30

Every generation has a moment when they can remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. For an older generation it was the assassination of JFK. For a slightly younger generation it was when they heard Princess Di had died in a car crash in Paris. For a particularly sad generation of girls, it was when Robbie left Take That. However a certain group of obsessive Leinster fans will always remember where they were last Saturday evening as the news broke of the injury to Felipe Contepomi!

The one injury Leinster fans had feared above all others, even Brian O'Driscoll, had finally occurred in Argentina's narrow defeat to France. A knee injury has put the Argentinean genius out for six weeks and Leinster have to cope without him over the most crucial period of our season.

After the break for the Autumn internationals, Leinster face into a run of nine games that will make or break our season in both the Heineken Cup and Magners League. First up is Ulster away this weekend, then Agen home and away in the Heineken Cup. Then it's back to the Magners League again for three games over the Christmas / New Year period. First it's the away trip to Munster, the "last stand" against Ulster in Lansdowne and the Ospreys in Donnybrook. Then it's Heineken time again with Edinburgh at home followed by the trip to Gloucester. Llanelli at home completes the run of nine games before the Six Nations starts.

So nine tough games and the last thing we needed was to lose last season's leading points scorer. However Leinster are not just a one-man team and in the absence of Dr. Phil it's up to other senior players to step up to the mark.

That starts this weekend with an immensely tough trip to Ravenhill. Ulster players have many reasons to be happy after the Autumn Internationals. After floating around the fringes for the last two years a number of their players really stepped up to the mark and laid down markers for the future. None more so than Neil Best. Although Best started his Ulster career at openside, he has since emerged as an old-school blindside flanker, a tough customer who lives for rattling ribcages with big hits. His namesake Rory also played very well at hooker after biding his time on the bench for all last season. Isaac "Hugo" Boss made a fine debut against the Aussies, finally presenting Peter Stringer with some competition at scrum-half. Stephen Ferris made a quieter than expected debut against the Pacific Islanders but still looks a quality prospect and Paddy Wallace had a dream match in his first start, earning the man of the match award. Bryan Young also enjoyed his first two starts for Ireland at loosehead prop.

They all return to an Ulster squad that currently tops the Magners League table. It's been a decent campaign so far for the Champions, their only defeats coming in tough away trips to Edinburgh and Munster. However, they are hit by injuries to three of their flyers Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Maxwell. Mark Bartholomeusz and Scott Young are able deputies. Other than that it's pretty much a full strength Ulster side.

It's a big ask for Leinster to go there and win, but they did manage it last season and have actually won their last three games against Ulster. They will be cheered on by two coach loads of Leinster fans. A big thanks to Harp for providing the coaches and laying on a reception at their brewery on the way up. Well done to Andy, Catherine and Will for organising the expedition. It will be many Leinster fans' first experience of the Ravenhill atmosphere, but we expect the support from the Blue Brigade to be as loud and boisterous as ever!


by Jim O'Connor, © 2006-12-02