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Ulster Rugby vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro14 Round 15
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Saturday, 29th August 2020, 19:35

TV: Live on Eir Sports

Well that match was far, far better than it had any right to be!

After a six month break from competitive rugby, you expected some rust and there were some early knock-ons from both sides. But once the game got going it was a bloody good contest which strangely still followed the pattern of recent games at the Aviva between the two teams. It was tight enough for the first quarter but then Leinster took a decent lead after half-time but then had to struggle to hold on at the end.

In truth Leinster couldn't have complained too much if JJ Hanrahan had secured a draw with that missed conversion. Their lineout was poor, they struggled to deal with Munster's aeriel kicking game and they were guilty of defending narrowly too often. Their biggest concern though will be the breakdown where they were penalised several times. But there were plenty of positives too and winning the first game in six months but having plenty to work on isn't the worst outcome for Leo Cullen.

Munster of course lost new signing RG Snyman, as well as Dave Kilcoyne and Jean Kleyn to injury so they'll be missing for the semi-final in two weeks time. But Munster will have taken a lot from running Leinster so close last week, even when missing those guys for most of the game. Leinster also suffered some knocks last week with Dave Kearney's pulled hamstring possibly the costliest. You'd think coming off a six month enforced break from rugby that you'd at least have a relatively clean injury profile. But Leinster's list is a lengthy one and the number of outside backs are dwindling alarmingly.

Having watched Glasgow's loss secure them a semi-final place on Saturday, Ulster emerged with a sofa-soft attitude in their game against Connacht on Sunday. Connacht were playing for nothing but sometimes the lack of pressure frees a team and the westerners played some nice attacking rugby and deserved their win. Ulster's minds looked elsewhere though and it earned them a stern rebuke from coach Dan McFarland. Former Leinster player of the year Ian Madigan made his Ulster debut last week. Madigan left Leinster four years ago and was well reimbursed in his time in Bordeaux and Bristol. But he's still only 31 and if he can show he still retains his strong attacking game and the same place-kicking skills he could be a real contender to start at ten ahead of the frankly unconvincing Billy Burns.

They're going to be traveling to Murrayfield for a semi-final in a week's time, so MacFarland has opted for a strong side again this week in order to try to get some playing rhythm. Madigan is named to start at out-half and he's partnered by his old mate John Cooney, the replacement half back pairing that saw out the 2012 Heineken Cup final for Leinster. Jacob Stockdale remains at full back with Matt Faddes and Rob Lyttle named on the wings. James Hume and Stuart McCloskey form a powerful centre pairing.

Eric O'Sullivan, Rob Herring and Tom O'Toole come in to form a new front row. Australian international Sam Carter captains the side from the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell and Matthew Rea, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee form the backrow.

For Leinster, this is the last game this season in which they can give the extended squad gametime so Leo Cullen has made wholesale changes to his team for this week. Rob Kearney is named at full back and he'll be looking to stake a claim for the full back slot after Jordan Larmour's struggles in the air last week. Hugo Keenan and Cian Kelleher are the wingers and Rory O'Loughlin and Ciaran Frawley are in midfield. Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park are the half backs. Ed Byrne captains the teams from loosehead and has Sean Cronin and Michael Bent alongside him in the front row. Devin Toner and Ross Molony are in the boiler room and Josh Murphy, Will Connors and Max Deegan make up a youthful backrow. Rhy Ruddock is fit to be named on the bench and tighthead Tom Clarkson will make his senior debut after impressing for the Ireland under-20s in the last two seasons.

The game itself looked in doubt on Wednesday when eight Ulster academy players tested positive for Covid-19. However fortunately the senior squad's tests were clear but these are the types of scares we'll all have to get used to while we're still dealing with this virus.

Ulster's team has a strong look about it and they could cause Leinster some problems but this Leinster 'B' team (if you will) has performed well this season and will hopefully keep the winning run going.

Team Lineups

Ulster Rugby

Leinster Rugby
Teams Jacob Stockdale 15 Rob Kearney
Matt Faddes 14 Hugo Keenan
James Hume 13 Rory O'Loughlin
Stuart McCloskey 12 Ciaran Frawley
Rob Lyttle 11 Cian Kelleher
Ian Madigan 10 Ross Byrne
John Cooney 9 Jamison Gibson-Park

Eric O'Sullivan 1 Ed Byrne (C)
Rob Herring 2 Sean Cronin
Tom O'Toole3
Michael Bent
Sam Carter (C)
4 Devin Toner
Kieran Treadwell 5 Ross Molony
Matthew Rea 6 Josh Murphy
Jordi Murphy 7 Will Connors
Marcell Coetzee 8 Max Deegan

Replacements John Andrew 16 James Tracy
Kyle McCall 17 Michael Milne
Marty Moore 18 Tom Clarkson
Alan O'Connor 19 Rhys Ruddock
Nick Timoney 20 Scott Penny
David Shanahan 21 Rowan Osborne
Bill Johnston 22 Harry Byrne
Louis Ludik 23 Jimmy O'Brien

Not Considered
due to Injury
Ian Henderson,
Robert Baloucoune

James Ryan,
Fergus McFadden,
Dan Leavy,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Peter Dooley,
Adam Byrne,
Dave Kearney,
Tadhg Furlong
Officials Referee: George Clancy (IRFU),
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (IRFU) AR2: Eoghan Cros (IRFU),
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2020-08-28