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Ulster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
RaboDirect Pro12 Round 21
Ravenhill, Belfast,
Friday, 2nd April 2014, 19:30

Television: Live - RTE2, BBC NI

Time to get the calculators out!

For most of the season, Ireland's top three provinces seemed to have the top three spots in the Pro12 locked down. It seemed that it would only be a matter of where each of Leinster, Munster and Ulster finished in the top three and that Glasgow and the Ospreys could squabble between each other for fourth place. This is no longer that case though.

For much of the season, Glasgow failed to live up to their performances of last year. However, they've since hit form at the right time with six wins on the trot. They play their final two games against the Italian teams so they've a decent chance of gaining another ten points. So now, to make sure they finish ahead of Glasgow, Leinster need to attain six points from their final two games. They will fancy their chances of five points against a fairly hopeless Edinburgh team next week at the RDS but that one other "safety" point will need to come tomorrow night in Ravenhill.

Ulster's position is actually more troubling. They are now not guaranteed even a place in the top four after they were well beaten by Glasgow two weeks ago. They currently lie in fourth place, five points clear of the Ospreys. However, like Glasgow, the Ospreys have a fairly handy finish against Zebre and Connacht which should see them earn another ten points. So Ulster need five points to be sure of finishing ahead of the Ospreys (as they have a higher number of wins). With their final match next week being a tricky trip to Thomond Park to face Munster, they know their best chance of getting those five points is with a big win tomorrow night in Ravenhill.

So Ulster are already stocked up with motivation and they'll be further inspired as tomorrow is also the official opening of the redeveloped Ravenhill stadium. Given some of the performances Ulster have put in this season, especially in Europe, it would be a bitterly disappointing end to the season to not even make the play-offs. All the more so as some stalwarts of the club in Tom Court, John Afoa and skipper Johann Muller are moving on at the end of the season.

Muller has been named to skipper a team that's quite strong, especially considering their lengthy injury list. Coach Mark Anscombe has made three changes to the line-up that began against Glasgow. Jared Payne is back from the suspension he received after his highly controversial red card in the Saracens match, but interestingly he is picked at outside centre instead of full back in the only change to the backline. So it means he'll get to go head to head with Brian O'Driscoll, the man who many feel Payne could replace in the Ireland number 13 jersey next season.

The other two changes for Ulster are both in the pack. With John Afoa and Ricky Lutton both injured, Andrew Warwick comes in to start only his second Ulster match and his first at tighthead prop. So, it's a big ask for the 23-year-old academy prop, especially against a prop of the quality of Cian Healy. The final change is in the back row where Roger Wilson returns from injury to play at blindside which means Chris Henry moves across to openside in place of Sean Doyle.

Leinster have named a side showing four changes from the team that started against Treviso. Three are in the backline where Gordon D'Arcy, Dave Kearney and Ian Madigan all return to the side. The only other change is in the pack where Shane Jennings comes in for Jordi Murphy at openside flanker.

Leinster have to just ignore all the hoopla and emotion and go out and do a professional job. Even though they know a bonus point wouldn't be a bad result, they must go for the win, if only to potentially knock a serious contender from the play-offs. They have been buoyed in the last two weeks by a serious demolition of Treviso a fortnight ago and the success of the 'A' squad in winning a tough semi-final away to Pontypridd in the British and Irish cup last weekend.

Leinster beat Ulster 19-6 in the RDS after Christmas in a curiously one-sided affair with Ulster hardly throwing a punch. It's hard to see them being so lacklustre tomorrow evening though and with danger men in the backs like Payne, Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble plus tough ball carriers like Nick Williams and Iain Henderson in the pack, they'll certainly throw everything at Leinster. If Leinster can withstand the initial onslaught though and score some points off the scrum, they could certainly emerge with a losing bonus point and maybe even more.

Team Lineups

Ulster Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Ricky Andrew 15 Rob Kearney
Andrew Trimble 14 Zane Kirchner
Jared Payne 13 Brian O'Driscoll
Luke Marshall 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Craig Gilroy 11 Dave Kearney
Paddy Jackson 10 Ian Madigan
Paul Marshall 9 Isaac Boss

Tom Court 1 Cian Healy
Rob Herring 2 Sean Cronin
Andrew Warwick 3 Martin Moore
Johann Muller (C) 4 Devin Toner
Iain Henderson 5 Mike McCarthy
Roger Wilson6 Rhys Ruddock
Chris Henry 7 Shane Jennings
Nick Williams8 Jamie Heaslip (C)

Replacements Niall Annett 16 Richardt Strauss
Callum Black 17 Jack McGrath
Adam Macklin 18 Mike Ross
Dan Tuohy 19 Leo Cullen
Sean Doyle 20
Jordi Murphy
Michael Heaney 21 Luke McGrath
James McKinney 22 Jimmy Gopperth
Darren Cave 23 Luke Fitzgerald

Not Considered
due to Injury
Rory Best,
John Afoa,
Stephen Ferris,
Robbie Diack,
Ruan Pienaar,
Declan Fitzpatrick,
Ricky Lutton,
Stuart Olding

Andrew Goodman,
Fergus McFadden,
Sean O'Brien,
Eoin Reddan,
Darragh Fanning
Officials Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU),
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, David Connolly (both IRFU),
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU),
TMO: Dermot Molony (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-05-01