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Leinster Rugby vs Ulster Rugby
Pro Rugby
RDS Arena, Dublin
Friday, 8th January 2021, 19:35

TV: Live on Eir Sports

Leinster's winning run in the tournament came to a crashing end when Connacht beat them convincingly last Saturday. Leinster's injury jinx struck again before and during the match and the backline had a particularly callow look by the end of the game. However Leinster's starting and back-up forwards were more than good enough to be competitive but they were soundly beaten by a Connacht pack that played harder and smarter, especially at the breakdown. The lineout also fell apart quite badly.

The defeat was shock enough but there may have been further shock to Leinster fans who may have missed that the reorganisation of the tournament has done away with most of the play-offs in the rush to start the Rainbow Cup. Now only the leaders of each conference will play off in the final. This means Leinster are now 10 points behind leaders Ulster. They have two games in hand that were postponed due to Covid, but they're away to Munster and Scarlets so hardly two gimmies.

So after a lot of easy, frankly boring games Leinster suddenly find themselves in a tournament with a bit of pressure on. Now that might not necessarily be that bad a thing. Having a few genuinely competitive hard fought games might be better for this team than a procession of facile walkovers.

Ulster arrive in Dublin with a bit more ambition having won ten games from ten. In the last few seasons, they've sent understrength teams down to Dublin but this time Dan McFarland has sent a pretty strong team. He's made six changes from last week, with the injured Jacob Stockdale replaced by Michael Lowry the only change in the backline. The other five changes are in the pack where Greg Jones and Jordi Murphy join the soon to depart Marcell Coetzee in a completely new back row. Andrew Warwick replaces Eric O'Sullivan at loosehead prop and Alan O'Connor replaces Kieran Treadwell at second row in the last two changes.

For Leinster the international cavalry has returned. Normally this would be to get the first choice team some gametime before European competition resumes. But with Northampton having reported a Covid outbreak, it looks likely that next week's game might not go ahead. The big news for Leinster is the earlier than expected return to fitness of Jordan Larmour who's named on the right wing. Hugo Keenan returns at full back and Dave Kearney remains on the left wing. Robbie Henshaw is at inside centre but he has a very strange partner in Ross Byrne who's never played centre before for Leinster. Picking him at outside centre is frankly a bizarre call given his biggest failing as a player is a complete lack of pace. Ulster will be licking their lips with the thoughts of targeting his channel. Johnny Sexton has shrugged off the head injury to be named at number 10 again, but these days everyone is just wondering how long he'll last in a game. Jamison Gibson-Park is back to reclaim his place at scrum-half.

It's a completely different pack this week with Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Andrew Porter in the front row and Scott Fardy and James Ryan in the boiler room. Rhys Ruddock and Caelan Doris have both recovered from injuries to form a back row with Josh van der Flier. Harry Byrne and Jimmy O'Brien are supposedly fit enough to be named on the bench, although these days Leinster team-sheets are a bit like Dublin, you have to wait until kick-off to see who'll actually take the field.

Ulster will be up for this and this could well be a tough match, but hopefully Leinster will bounce back this week.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Ulster Rugby
Teams Hugo Keenan 15 Michael Lowry
Jordan Larmour 14 Matt Faddes
Ross Byrne 13 James Hume
Robbie Henshaw 12 Stuart McCloskey
Dave Kearney 11 Ethan McIlroy
Johnny Sexton (C)
10 Billy Burns
Jamison Gibson-Park 9 John Cooney

Cian Healy 1 Andrew Warwick
Sean Cronin 2 Rob Herring
Andrew Porter 3 Marty Moore
Scott Fardy 4 Alan O'Connor
James Ryan 5 Sam Carter (C)
Rhys Ruddock 6 Greg Jones
Josh van der Flier 7 Jordi Murphy
Caelan Doris 8 Marcell Coetzee

Replacements James Tracy 16 John Andrew
Ed Byrne 17 Eric O'Sullivan
Michael Bent 18 Tom O'Toole
Ross Molony 19 Kieran Treadwell
Jack Conan 20 Nick Timoney
Luke McGrath 21 David Shanahan
Harry Byrne 22 Ian Madigan
Jimmy O'Brien 23 Ben Moxham

Not Considered
due to Injury
Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Adam Byrne,
Tadhg Furlong,
Max Deegan,
Tommy O'Brien,
James Lowe,
Garry Ringrose,
Scott Penny,
Josh Murphy,
Rory O'Loughlin,
Tom Clarkson,
Ciaran Frawley

Officials Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2021-01-07