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Leinster Rugby vs Ulster Rugby
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Monday, 26th December 2011, 17:30

Television: Live - RTE2

As predicted, Leinster decided to take out their frustration about their narrow win away to Bath by hammering the same team at the Aviva stadium last week. Right from the start, they set about the struggling English side with a hunger for tries. As with the Glasgow home match, they reacted to a second row being sin-binned by outscoring the opposition two tries to nil while he was gone. Once the excellent Luke Fitzgerald scored his second try, the game was over and it was just a question of how many tries they'd score.

Seven was the answer, a record number against an English team in the Heineken Cup. Bath salvaged some pride by scoring three late tries as Leinster's concentration waned in the last quarter with the game well won. Those tries will have annoyed the players and the management even more so because of the incredibly high standards they set themselves. But it's only a minor cloud on what was a superb team performance that laid down a marker for the tournament. The champs won't be relinquishing their crown without a fight!

The win gives them a stranglehold on the pool, but Joe Schmidt knows that it's never easy to win in Glasgow in their next match in three weeks. He'll be well aware that to secure a vital home quarter-final, they'll need to win their last two games so he'll keep the pressure on his lads. However after the slight bump in the road that was drawing the opening game in Montpellier, he'll be delighted to have things firmly back on track.

Before that game in Glasgow though, there are three Pro 12 games to be negotiated. Last time out, their bonus point win over Cardiff put Leinster top of the table for the first time since May 2010. After waiting so long to get back to the top, they'll want to keep the spot for a while. Tricky away trips to Connacht and Cardiff are next up so Leinster will be keen to make home advantage count against visitors Ulster on St. Stephen's Day.

Ulster come into the match in good spirits as they are also top of their Heineken Cup pool. However that is on the back of two bonus point wins against Aironi and they still face a tough task to qualify for the quarter-finals. They will have to beat the Leicester Tigers at home first and even if they accomplish that, they will still need to get something from their final match in Clermont. Leinster had to play unbelievably well just to get a losing bonus point in the Stade Marcel-Michelin last season, so Ulster have it all to do.

Good luck to them, but first they'll be looking to improve on their league position of eighth in the table. Once again this season, Ulster have been haunted by inconsistency. They made a great start winning their first three games in a row, but then went on a losing streak that saw defeated in their next four games. In their last three league games though, they've won two, the most recent a nervy win over the Scarlets in Ravenhill. Still, they need to get a move on in terms of picking up results if they want to finish in the top four for the second season running.

It's highly unlilkely they'll be picking up any points on Monday though as they've named a drastically under-strength team. To be fair to Ulster, they're playing again on Friday at home to Munster so they've obviously decided to put all their eggs in that basket and they've effectively sent their 'A' team to the RDS. Their coach Brian McLaughlin has named a team with five debutants in the starting line-up. These are full-back Peter Nelson, centres Michael Allen and Chris Farrell, prop Callum Black and flanker Ali Birch. Four more players could make their senior debuts if called in from the bench including promising hooker Niall Annett.

There is some experience in the backline in Scottish international wing Simon Danielli and scrum-half Paul Marshall. In the pack hooker Nigel Brady, Tim Barker, Lewis Stevenson and Robbie Diack also provide some experience but there is no doubt that this is an extremely callow line-up that will be doing well to keep the score below fifty points. It's not all Ulster's fault, you'd wonder why they have to play again on Friday while Leinster don't play again until two days after. However for a sell-out fixture, it's bad for the league's credibility that Ulster haven't sent a team that can at least be competitive.

After Leinster beat Clermont at the Aviva last season, Joe Schmidt shuffled his squad for the next two games and he's done the same this year with eleven changes to the team that started last week including two positional switches. Despite this, it's still a very strong line-up, especially when compared to Ulster's. Luke Fitzgerald switches to full back and Fionn Carr takes his place on the left wing with David Kearney coming in on the right wing. Fergus McFadden switches back to outside centre with Gordon D'Arcy reclaiming the inside centre jersey. Ian Madigan comes in at out-half to partner Eoin Reddan.

In the front row Cian Healy and Sean Cronin come in to partner Mike Ross. Damian Browne comes in to the seond row to partner Devin Toner, who was exceptional last week. The backrow is re-jigged with Kevin McLaughlin and Leo Auva'a coming in to join Shane Jennings who captains the team. It's nice to see Andrew Conway back on the bench after his injury problems this term and he'll make his seasonal debut if he gets on.

It's always bad luck to be too confident about a win, but if this Leinster team come out with the right attitude and play anything close to their ability, they really should win very handily indeed.

Happy Christmas from everyone at leinsterfans.com!

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Ulster Rugby
Teams Luke Fitzgerald 15 Peter Nelson
David Kearney 14 Chris Cochrane
Fergus McFadden 13 Michael Allen
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Chris Farrell
Fionn Carr 11 Simon Danielli
Ian Madigan 10 James McKinney
Eoin Reddan 9 Paul Marshall

Cian Healy 1 Callum Black
Sean Cronin 2 Nigel Brady (C)
Mike Ross 3 Adam Macklin
Damian Browne 4 Tim Barker
Devin Toner
5 Lewis Stevenson
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Neil McComb
Shane Jennings (C)
7 Ali Birch
Leo Auva'a 8 Robbie Diack

Replacements Richardt Strauss 16 Niall Annett
Jack McGrath 17 Jerry Cronin
Jamie Hagan 18 Tom Court
Steven Sykes 19 James Simpson
Rhys Ruddock 20 Conor Joyce
Isaac Boss 21 Ian Porter
Eoin O'Malley 22 Stuart Olding
Andrew Conway 23 Conor Gaston

Not Considered
due to Injury
Mat Berquist,
Shane Horgan,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Dominic Ryan,
Simon Shawe,
Eamonn Sheridan

Paddy Wallace,
Nevin Spence,
Jared Payne,
Luke Marshall,
Paddy Jackson,
Declan Fitzpatrick,
Mike McComish
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy, Trevor Collins (both IRFU)
4th Official: Paul Haycock (Leinster Rugby Referees)
5th Official: Dan Wallace (Leinster Rugby Referees)
TMO: Jude Quinn (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-12-23