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Ulster7 Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Ravenhill, Belfast
Saturday 24th October 2009, 18:00

Television: Live Setanta Sports 1

With their Heineken Cup campaign back on track, Leinster travel to Ravenhill for a top of the table clash with second placed Ulster. Last week's game against Brive was a must-win match and win Leinster did, comprehensively so. There was the odd grumble afterwards that a bonus point went begging, but such was the importance of the win most fans would have taken a one-point win beforehand, never mind a 23 point victory. The Scarlets shock win over a complacent London Irish side opens up the group again, although winning in Wales next time out will be still just as important.

Of course, the goodwill factor after the win in Brive was dashed by the news that Shane Jennings' appeal against a twelve-week ban was dismissed by the ERC. The ERC's modus operandi now seems to be that you're guilty until proven innocent. So now that a mere accusation of contact with the eye area is enough to get an opponent a three-month ban, expect more instances of players screaming and pointing at their eyes like Nick Kennedy. Unless video evidence exists to comprehensively disprove their claims, the likelihood is that they'll get their opponent a nice long suspension.

It's even more bizarre when you see players who've merrily stamped their way through the first two rounds get off with slap on the wrist bans from the same disciplinary committees. Jennings would have been better off punching or stamping on Kennedy, he'd probably have only gotten only two or three weeks for those offences. The warped sense of justice of the ERC disciplinary committee could well come back to haunt the game as players are now effectively encouraged to cry wolf about the eye area. Following a scuffle with Andy Goode last week, a hand went for Brian O'Driscoll's eye but as O'Driscoll didn't make a fuss about it, it was completely ignored by the ERC citing officer. So much for drawing a line in the sand!

It's a bitter blow for Jennings, but it's good to see the Leinster team and management supporting him and it's important that we supporters follow suit. At least he'll be back in time for the return match with London Irish in Reading, which gives him something to focus on. Following the bad blood over the incident, the whole Leinster squad will be itching for revenge now.

But that's in January and there's a huge amount of rugby to be played before then, starting with Ulster tomorrow. Following a poor start to the season in losing meekly to the Dragons, Ulster have recovered to find some very good form. They responded with a surprise win away to the Ospreys and followed that up with two more comprehensive wins over Scarlets and Connacht. They also had an excellent home win in the Heineken Cup against Bath. Only Edinburgh have spoiled the party somewhat with narrow wins in Ravenhill and last week in Murrayfield.

New coach Brian McLaughlin is looking for the consistency that they never quite achieved under Matt Williams and he has plenty of young talent to work with. He has named a strong team for tomorrow despite being deprived of two of his biggest names in Stephen Ferris and Paddy Wallace due to the IRFU's player welfare agreement. Chris Henry was very impressive for Ireland A when they won the Churchill Cup in the summer and he captains the team from number eight. He is joined in the backrow by Willie Faloon (another youngster who's taken his chance this season) and New Zealand born Tamaiti Horua who joined from the Western Force last summer. The second row features another summer signing in Dan Tuohy who partners the abrasive Ryan Caldwell. Nigel Brady is picked at hooker over Andy Kyriacou and Brendon Botha and Tom Court pack down either side of him.

Aside from Wallace, the Ulster backline has a familiar feel to it. Clinton Schifcofske, Timoci Nagusa and Andrew Trimble have been in such good form in the back three that Simon Danelli has to be content with a place on the bench. In Wallace's absence, Ian Whitten partners Darren Cave in the centre. Whitten is a big lad who was capped on the Ireland summer tour so he's not to be taken lightly. At half-back Ian Humphreys and Isaac Boss have been in excellent form recently and with the Autumn Internationals coming up soon, they'll be looking to impress the Ireland management.

The IRFU's player welfare agreement has also had a dramatic effect on the Leinster starting line-up with Eoin Reddan, Cian Healy, Leo Cullen and Shane Horgan rested completely and Jonny Sexton put on the bench. So Michael Chieka has named a completely new half-back combination in Chris Keane and Shaun Berne. Gordon D'Arcy comes back into the centre to partner Brian O'Driscoll who captains the team with Cullen and vice-captain Jennings unavailable. Girvan Dempsey comes in on the wing for Horgan, making his first start since he shipped a bad facial injury in the opening match of the season against the Scarlets.

In the pack there are three personnel changes and one positional switch. Ronnie McCormack makes his first start of the season in place of Cian Healy, who gets a well-deserved break after seven starts on the trot. Bernard Jackman has recovered from the injury that prematurely ended his match last week and Mike Ross completes the front row. With the current injury problems in the Irish front row, both Jackman and Ross will also be looking to impress the national management team. With Cullen out and Malcolm O'Kelly demoted to the bench there's a new second row combination in Devin Toner and Nathan Hines, who moves up from the back row. After his brilliant two try cameo last week Kevin McLaughlin takes back his number six jersey alongside Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien in a backrow full of ball carriers.

Leinster have a very good recent record up in Ravenhill with two wins and two draws in their last four visits. Ulster will be pretty determined to end their winless run at home and will fancy their chances given they have a more settled team out. Judging by the forecast it's going to be a typically wet and wild Ravenhill night, so it could turn into a slog between the packs like the six-all draw three years back. With a much-changed team, Leinster are certainly up against it this weekend, but hopefully they can do enough to keep their undefeated record in Ravenhill going.

Team Lineups

Ulster Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Clinton Schifcofske 15 Rob Kearney
Timoci Nagusa 14 Girvan Dempsey
Darren Cave 13 Brian O'Driscoll (C)
Ian Whitten 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Andrew Trimble 11 Isa Nacewa
Ian Humphreys
10 Shaun Berne
Isaac Boss 9 Chris Keane

Tom Court
1 Ronan McCormack
Nigel Brady 2 Bernard Jackman
Brendon Botha 3 Mike Ross
Dan Tuohy 4 Devin Toner
Ryan Caldwell 5 Nathan Hines
Tamaiti Horua 6 Kevin McLaughlin
Willie Faloon
7 Sean O'Brien
Chris Henry (C) 8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Andy Kyriacou
16 John Fogarty
Bryan Young 17 CJ van der Linde
Ed O'Donoghue
18 Malcolm O'Kelly
Ed O'Donoghue 19 Stephen Keogh
Paul Marshall 20
Simon Keogh
Niall O'Connor 21 Jonathan Sexton
Simon Danielli 22 Luke Fitzgerald

Not Considered
due to Injury
Rory Best
David Pollock
Bryn Cunningham
Matt McCullough
TJ Anderson

Stan Wright
Eoin O'Malley
Trevor Hogan
Officials Referee: Andrew Small (RFU)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey (IRFU), Jude Quinn (IRFU)
TMO: John Carvill (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-10-23