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Leinster Rugby vs Ulster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Semi-final
RDS Showground, Ballsbridge,
Friday, 20th May 2016, 19:45

Television: Live - TG4, BBC2 NI, Sky Sports 3

Leinster beat Treviso comfortably a fortnight ago to finish top of the Pro12. However of the four teams in the semi-finals, they're probably the least fancied. Connacht, Glasglow and Ulster all have their backers, but the fans and the media are cool on Leinster despite them being at home in the RDS where they've never lost a semi-final since they play-offs began in 2010, indeed they won five in a row until they failed to make the play-offs last season. Leinster's opponents Ulster have been on the losing end of two of those semi-final in 2011 and 2014, as well as the final in the RDS in 2013. Indeed their record in Dublin is fairly wretched with only one win there in 17 years.

Yet Ulster travel with great confidence and with good reason. They've had an up and down season, but have found some real form at the right time. This form was shown when they smashed Leinster 30-6 in Ravenhill only three weeks ago. True, Ulster got the benefit of some characteristically strange refereeing from George Clancy, but even so they were full value for their win and looked in a different league to Leinster in attack. That day Leinster had hoped to boss a weakened Ulster pack up front and while they certainly had the better of the scrum, they could do nothing with the ball they got. Leinster looked so dull and slow in attack that in those normally asinine Sky Sports in-matchs interviews, their previously unknown assistant coach Joe Barakat told it exactly how it was: Leinster were predictable in attack and easy to stop and Ulster should be unhappy to end the game without a four try bonus point. In truth, you couldn't disagree with any of it.

Leinster responded well enough to that defeat and showed some decent attacking prowess against Treviso particularly with the outstanding first try, but they know they'll need to step up things considerably to make a dent in that Ulster defence. The main reason Leinster finished top of the table was their defence, but even that seems to be crumbling and after conceding only 18 tries in their first 19 league games of the season, they've now conceded 9 tries in their last 3 games. The lazy way they allowed a well beaten Treviso in for three second half tries will not have gone down well with the normally affable Kurt McQuilkin. To have any chance against a lethal Ulster attack, they need to have their defence back to it's aggressive and miserly best.

Ulster have named an unchanged team to the one that put six tries on the Ospreys in Swansea two weeks ago with Chris Henry set to win his 150th cap. For Leinster, the only changes come in the back three where Luke Fitzgerald is fit enough to return in place of the injured Rob Kearney. Fitzgerald's return is very welcome and gives the back three some badly needed pace and it forces a reshuffle with skipper Isa Nacewa going to full back and Dave Kearney to the right wing. Zane Kirchner is recalled to the bench, as is the fit again Jack Conan.

Ironically enough, Ulster's biggest problem may well be the manner of their victory three weeks ago. Leinster had to take a lot of stick in the week that followed and they will be absolutely sick to their teeth of everyone telling them how much better Ulster were. Their pride was hurt and they should be absolutely bulling for revenge this Friday.

Despite it being a Friday, the Ulster fans are travelling in big numbers so Leinster need the RDS faithful in full voice. The forecast is for rain, which may temper some of Ulster's attacking threat and the bookies are still fancying Leinster, so maybe they know something!

Team Lineups

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

Jack McGrath 1 Callum Black
Richardt Strauss 2 Rory Best (C)
Mike Ross 3 Ricky Lutton
Devin Toner 4 Peter Browne
Mick Kearney 5 Franco van der Merwe
Rhys Ruddock 6 Iain Henderson
Jordi Murphy 7 Chris Henry
Jamie Heaslip 8 Sean Reidy

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Rob Herring
Peter Dooley 17 Kyle McCall
Tadhg Furlong 18 Andy Warwick
Ross Molony 19 Robbie Diack
Jack Conan 20
Roger Wilson
Luke McGrath 21 Paul Marshall
Ian Madigan 22 Stuart Olding
Zane Kirchner 23 Darren Cave

Not Considered
due to Injury
Edward Byrne,
Tom Farrell,
Marty Moore,
Royce Burke-Flynn,
Gavin Thornbury,
Sean O'Brien,
Mike McCarthy,
Rob Kearney,
Josh van der Flier,
Cian Healy

Nick Williams,
Tommy Bowe,
Wiehahn Herbst,
Dan Tuohy,
Peter Nelson,
Sam Arnold,
Alan O'Connor
Officials Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 48th competition game),
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Sean Brickell (both WRU),
Citing Commissioner: John Cole (IRFU),
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-05-19