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Ulster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 21
Kingspan Stadium, Belfast,
Friday, 30th April 2015, 15:00

Television: Live - Sky Sports 1

So it's down to the last two matches of the season and everyone has their calculators out. Leinster may be on top of the table but they're on the same number of points as Connacht and two ahead of Glasgow. It's all about finishing in the top two at this stage to get a home semi-final. The situation is further complicated by Connacht and Glasgow squaring off against each other in the final game, while Leinster will likely get five points at home to Treviso in their last run-out. So could Leinster lose tomorrow but get a losing bonus point and still finish in the top two? Yes, but it's far from certain, so far better to just go out and win tomorrow.

Ulster's plight is a lot more stark, lose tomorrow and they can virtually kiss goodbye to their chances of a top four finish. They have the Scarlets, who play the Dragons this weekend, two points behind them and next week Ulster travel to the Ospreys, never an easy place to get a result. So it's pretty much win or bust for Ulster as it would be a massive disappointment for them not to make the top four, especially after their form earlier in the season.

Around Christmas, they were looking like the best team in Ireland, having been the only Irish side in the Champions Cup to even go close to qualifying for the quarter-finals. There were two fine wins against Toulouse but ultimately their campaign faltered on the back of two crushing defeats to Saracens. The defeats weren't a disgrace by any means as the English side are likely to win the trophy in Lyon in a fortnight (in front of two men and a dog, but that's a discussion for another day). But while Leinster have bounced back well from even worse hidings against Wasps, Ulster's results have been more inconsistent. Over the six nations they suffered two annoying defeats at home to the Scarlets and away to Cardiff. They then threw away two good leads away in losing to Glasgow and left with nothing. To be fair, they bounced back with a good win against Connacht, indeed they're the one Irish team that always beat the Westerners.

They'll be delighted to be able to call on Iain Henderson tomorrow and they, and Ireland, may well wonder what might have been if Henderson had been fit this season. Ulster make just three changes to their team with Irish internationals Andrew Trimble, Stuart McCloskey and Chris Henry all returning to the side.

Leinster make nine changes to the team that started two weeks ago in the rather bizarre game of two halves versus Edinburgh. Luke Fitzgerald, who brought real zip to the game, is strangely left out in place of Dave Kearney who makes his 100th appearance. Isa Nacewa returns on the other wing while Garry Ringrose's return at outside centre means Ben Te'o switches back to the inside. Johnny Sexton is back at ten making only his second Leinster start since January. In the pack Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs and Jamie Heaslip all come in to start.

Ulster's backline looks dangerous but Leinster will fancy a crack at the Ulster pack, especially their scrum. Ulster's need is greater but Leinster's record in Belfast is pretty good and with wet weather forecast, they may well just grind out a win to all but cement a home semi-final.

Team Lineups

Ulster Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Jared Payne 15 Rob Kearney
Andrew Trimble 14 Isa Nacewa (C)
Luke Marshall 13 Garry Ringrose
Stuart McCloskey 12 Ben Te'o
Craig Gilroy 11 Dave Kearney
Paddy Jackson 10 Jonathan Sexton
Ruan Pienaar 9 Luke McGrath

Callum Black 1 Jack McGrath
Rory Best (C) 2 Richardt Strauss
Ricky Lutton 3 Tadhg Furlong
Peter Browne 4 Devin Toner
Franco van der Merwe 5 Hayden Triggs
Iain Henderson 6 Rhys Ruddock
Chris Henry 7 Josh van der Flier
Sean Reidy 8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Rob Herring 16 Sean Cronin
Kyle McCall 17 Peter Dooley
Andy Warwick 18 Mike Ross
Robbie Diack 19 Mick Kearney
Roger Wilson 20
Jordi Murphy
Paul Marshall 21 Eoin Reddan
Stuart Olding 22 Ian Madigan
Darren Cave 23 Luke Fitzgerald

Not Considered
Due to Injury
Nick Williams,
Tommy Bowe,
Wiehahn Herbst,
Dan Tuohy,
Peter Nelson,
Sam Arnold,
Alan O'Connor

Edward Byrne,
Tom Farrell,
Marty Moore,
Royce Burke-Flynn,
Gavin Thornbury,
Jack Conan,
Sean O'Brien,
Mike McCarthy
Officials Referee: George Clancy (IRFU, 81st competition game),
Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Leo Colgan (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU),
TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-04-29