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Leinster Rugby vs Ulster Rugby
Rabodirect Pro12 Semi-final
RDS Showground,
Saturday, 17th May 2014, 19:00

Television: Live - RTE2/BBCNI

It hasn't been a vintage season for any of the Irish provinces. They all delivered big performances at one point in Europe, Leinster away to Northampton, Ulster away to Leicester/Montpellier, Munster at home to Toulouse and Connacht away to the same opponents. But none of them have really strung enough good performances together to really be happy with themselves. However a Pro12 league trophy would provide something tangible for the season.

Connacht's season is already over and at least one other Irish province will be finished after this weekend. Tonight Munster face a really tough trip to Scotstoun to face undoubtedly the form team in the league in Glasgow. If they get through that they will face the winners of Leinster and Ulster who play tomorrow evening in the RDS. Ulster beat Leinster twice last season in the league stages before losing to them in the final. This season Leinster have won both the regular season games so Ulster will be praying that the trend from last season is reversed and they win the knock-out game this time.

Ulster certainly won't lack for motivation. Their captain Johann Muller is retiring and they will be desperate that he doesn't end his spell at Ulster having never lifted silverware. They've been knocking on the door for the last three or four seasons but they have lost far more knock-out games than they've won which has ultimately been their undoing. Leinster won up in Ulster only two weeks ago but the game was a typically fiery inter-pro and Tom Court's red card in the opening quarter was seen as the decisive factor, although strangely Leinster played worse after Court departed.

Ulster haven't quite matched their form of last season in the league, although injuries to key men have been a major factor. They have been boosted however by the return to fitness of key men in Rory Best, Robbie Diack and perhaps most importantly of all, Ruan Pienaar. Pienaar is paired with Paddy Jackson at half back and they will look to unleash a backline with bags of pace. Their coach Mark Anscombe has made some interesting calls seemingly in a bid to get all their best strike runners on the pitch at the same time. So Luke Marshall is benched with Darren Cave picked at inside centre with Jared Payne continuing in the outside channel. And he's found a way to accommodate his three international wingers by naming Craig Gilroy at full back with Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble on the wings. There are some potential risks defensively, but with some decent ball this backline could be electric.

The pack looking to provide that good ball is boosted not just by Best and Diack but by the returning Ricky Lutton at tighthead, who should ensure the scrum fares better than it did two weeks ago in Belfast. Callum Black starts at loosehead in place of the suspended Tom Court. Muller leads the team from the second row in tandem with Iain Henderson, which means Dan Tuohy has to make do with a place on the bench. Diack's return is timely in that it means Roger Wilson can move to number eight in place of the injured Nick Williams. Chris Henry completes the team at open-side and he'll be looking for a better performance at the breakdown than two weeks ago.

Leinster have made eight changes to the team that started last weekend. After being injured for the last few weeks Eoin Reddan is fit to start in the only change to the backline. They will be hoping that he can provide some speed and quick passing from the rucks to ignite a backline that has looked as sharp as a butter knife for most of the season. All the other changes come in the pack where Jamie Heaslip is the only one to retain his place. Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Martin Moore come into the front row, while Quinn Roux is somewhat surprisingly named in the second row alongside Devin Toner. Rhys Ruddock and Shane Jennings come into the back row alongside Heaslip which means Sean O'Brien is on the bench and Jordi Murphy is extremely unfortunate to be left out altogether.

For Leinster, they simply have to find some form from somewhere to beat what looks to be an impressive Ulster side. Last week summed up the season as a whole, when they scraped a win despite playing very poorly. Leinster only beat Ulster by two points two weeks ago and this looks a far stronger Ulster side, so they'll have to find something extra to win tomorrow.

If they can find that, perhaps they'll win, but there is a feeling that this is the last-chance saloon for Ulster and that might just be enough for them.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Ulster Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Craig Gilroy
Fergus McFadden 14 Tommy Bowe
Brian O'Driscoll 13 Jared Payne
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Darren Cave
Dave Kearney 11 Andrew Trimble
Jimmy Gopperth 10 Paddy Jackson
Eoin Reddan 9 Ruan Pienaar

Cian Healy 1 Callum Black
Sean Cronin 2 Rory Best
Martin Moore 3 Ricky Lutton
Devin Toner
4 Johann Muller (C)
Quinn Roux
5 Iain Henderson
Rhys Ruddock6 Robbie Diack
Shane Jennings 7 Chris Henry
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Roger Wilson

Replacements Aaron Dundon 16 Rob Herring
Jack McGrath 17 Andrew Warwick
Mike Ross 18 Adam Macklin
Leo Cullen 19 Dan Tuohy
Sean O'Brien 20
Sean Doyle
Isaac Boss 21 Paul Marshall
Ian Madigan 22 James McKinney
Zane Kirchner 23 Luke Marshall

Not Considered
due to Injury
Andrew Goodman,
Darragh Fanning,
Richardt Strauss,
Mike McCarthy,
Tom Denton,
Luke Fitzgerald

John Afoa,
Stephen Ferris,
Declan Fitzpatrick,
Stuart Olding,
Nick Williams
Officials Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies (WRU), Neil Paterson (SRU),
Citing Commissioner: Paul Minto (SRU),
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-05-22