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Leinster Rugby vs Ulster Rugby
Guinness Pro14, Round 13
RDS Arena, Dublin
Saturday, 6th January 2018, 17:35

Live on TG4/Sky Sports

Five days after their New Years Day win over Connacht, Leinster will be back at the RDS tomorrow evening looking to complete a hat-trick of inter-pro wins over the holiday period.

They take on an Ulster team desperate to find some consistency after a remarkable season of dazzling highs and brutal lows. It started back in September when they were the only team this season to beat the champions the Scarlets (in the Pro14), only to lose to last year's bottom team Zebre two weeks later. They started Europe with a fine win at home to Wasps only to get destroyed a week later in La Rochelle (with a bizarrely chosen, weakened lineup). They appeared to have turned a corner when they recorded back to back wins over Harlequins to revitalise their European Campaign but they followed that up by being thrashed 44-16 away to Connacht. Les Kiss admitted it was his worst defeat in his time in charge and things weren't looking much better on New Years Day when they trailed a largely second choice Munster side 17-0 at half-time.

You suspect forwards Coach Jonno Gibbes was so infuriated with his pack's meek first half performance that he threatened to kill a puppy unless they improved dramatically. They did improve, admittedly aided by Munster's horrendous discipline, and the backs ran in four fine tries to secure an excellent comeback victory. However the match summed up how inconsistent they can be, even within the same game, and Kiss is still under pressure.

He'll be looking for a better performance than when they lost to Leinster at Ravenhill earlier in the season and he's boosted by the return of three of his top men in Iain Henderson, Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale. They all start in a selection that shows nine changes from the team that beat Munster. Andrew Trimble comes in on the right wing with Stockdale on the left and Johnny Stewart makes his first start at scrum-half. In the pack Callum Black and Best come in to the front row to start alongside the surprisingly retained Rodney Ah You. Pete Browne and Henderson are the locks and Matty Rea and Sean Reidy come in on the flanks either side of the retained Jean Deysel.

For Leinster it's all change again with only Fergus McFadden and Garry Ringrose retaining their jerseys from the last day. Jordan Larmour starts at full back and Barry Daly selected on the left wing while Robbie Henshaw partners Ringrose in the centre. Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne are the halves and Jack McGrath captains Leinster for the second time in an all new front row with James Tracy and Tadhg Furlong. Devin Toner and Scott Fardy are the starting locks while in the back row Academy player Josh Murphy starts for only the second time, with Jordi Murphy at openside flanker and Jack Conan completing the pack at No. 8.

Leinster played some great stuff against Connacht and James Lowe, Johnny Sexton and Sean Cronin were dazzling in attack at times. But they were wasteful with their chances considering the amount of line breaks they created and they were indebted to some immense defence to see out the match from the likes of Max Deegan, Scott Fardy and especially Josh van der Flier who set a new Pro14 record with 34 tackles made and none missed.

With two big European games coming at home to Glasgow and away to Montpelier they will be looking for a more complete performance and they should have the edge in the pack to achieve that and extend their winning run to seven games.

15. Jordan Larmour 14. Fergus McFadden 13. Garry Ringrose 12. Robbie Henshaw 11. Barry Daly 10. Ross Byrne 9. Jamison Gibson-Park 1. Jack McGrath (Capt). 2. James Tracy 3. Tadhg Furlong 4. Devin Toner 5. Scott Fardy 6. Josh Murphy 7. Jordi Murphy 8. Jack Conan

Replacements: 16. Sean Cronin 17. Ed Byrne 18. Andrew Porter 19. Mick Kearney 20. Max Deegan 21. Nick McCarthy 22. Johnny Sexton 23. Noel Reid

Not considered due to injury: Tom Daly, Jamie Heaslip, Joey Carbery, Rhys Ruddock, Adam Byrne, Sean O'Brien, Richardt Strauss, James Ryan, Dan Leavy, Rory O'Loughlin

15. Charles Piutau 14. Andrew Trimble 13. Darren Cave 12. Stuart McCloskey 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Christian Lealiifano 9. Johnny Stewart 1. Callum Black 2. Rory Best (Capt). 3. Rodney Ah You 4. Pete Browne 5. Iain Henderson 6. Matty Rea 7. Sean Reidy 8. Jean Deysel

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring 17. Kyle McCall 18. Wiehahn Herbst 19. Alan O'Connor 20. Nick Timoney 21. John Cooney 22. Johnny McPhillips 23. Tommy Bowe

Not considered due to injury: Marcell Coetzee, Matthew Dalton, Robbie Diack, Craig Gilroy, Chris Henry, Brett Herron, Rob Lyttle, Luke Marshall, Paul Marshall, Adam McMurney, Jared Payne, Johnny Simpson, Kieran Treadwell

Referee: George Clancy (IRFU, 96th competition game) AR1: Joy Neville (IRFU). AR2: Shane Kierans (IRFU) TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2018-01-05