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Leinster Rugby vs Ulster Rugby
Pro 14 Round 8
RDS Arena, Dublin
Friday, 20th December 2019, 19:35

TV: Live on Eir Sports

With qualification as pool winners secured for the quarter-finals after four matches, Leinster can look back on a satisfactory European campaign so far.

Truth be told, the pool has been handy enough and there are certainly tougher tests to come in the later stages. But Leo Cullen will still be pleased especially in the backdrop of a desperate World Cup campaign. Before European action can recommence Leinster face into the round of Christmas/New year inter-pros. It's Ulster and Connacht at the RDS broken up by a trip to Thomond Park to face Munster. After the World Cup the internationals will see less action than they have in the last couple of years in this period. So the challenge for Cullen will be putting out a competitive squad for each game.

They face an Ulster team who have also got four wins from four in their Champions Cup pool. They still have work to do to qualify but even if they lose away to Clermont, they should be odds-on to beat Bath at home and secure qualification to the knock-out stages. Their run has been inspired by the form of scrum-half John Cooney who has become the talk of Irish rugby in the last few weeks.

The former Leinster man has taken a circuitous route to the top via a spell with Connacht. Some, like Joe Schmidt among others, never rated him and still don't. But now he's putting in man of the match performances practically every week and the calls for him to start in the Six Nations are growing louder. At this point you would have to say what do Ireland have to lose? Conor Murray is a fine player whose form has tailed off in the last year. He's playing okay at the moment but he's not offering anything that says his place should be sacrosanct. Murray's understudy at the World Cup Luke McGrath is battling for first-place at Leinster with Jamison Gibson-Park so he hasn't made a great case to start either.

Starting Cooney could give Ireland's moribund attack a shot of vitality and get some quick ball finally for the in-form outside backs like Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale. It could also be no harm to give Murray a kick in the arse as well to make him fight to get his place back.

After all that, Cooney isn't named in the team to start as their coach Dan McFarland opts to rest most of his internationals this week. There's no shortage of former Leinster players though as David Shanahan is named as his replacement alongside former Munster fly-half Bill Johnston. Rob Lyttle, Craig Gilroy and Angus Kernohan are the back three and Matt Faddes and Angus Curtis combine for a useful looking midfield pairing.

Andrew Warwick, Adam McBurney and Tom O'Toole make up the front row and there are two more Leinster men in the boiler room. Skipper Alan O'Connor wins his 100th cap alongside his brother David who make his first start for Ulster. Local boy Matty Rea is selected in the back row alongside two more former Leinster players in Nick Timoney and Greg Jones.

For Leinster there is also much change as only Robbie Henshaw and Scott Fardy are retained from the last day's starting line-up. Henshaw is joined in the centre by Tommy O'Brien who's been playing well for the A's for the past two seasons and deserves his first start. And no he's not related to Conor and Jimmy O'Brien either before you ask! The back three sees Rob Kearney start at full back, with Fergus McFadden and Cian Kelleher on the wings. In the half backs Jamison Gibson-Park is paired with Harry Byrne.

In the pack Sean Cronin makes a welcome return from injury at hooker, with Peter Dooley and Andrew Porter propping either side of him. Scott Fardy captains the side from the second row with Josh Murphy alongside him. Finally, the back row sees Will Connors at blindside, Scott Penny at openside and Max Deegan at number eight in what's a very mobile unit.

The last two visits of Ulster to Dublin have been fairly damp squibs with Ulster sending down very under-strength sides to get easily beaten. This time the two teams named seem well matched and so it should make for a more entertaining game.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Ulster Rugby
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Rob Lyttle
Fergus McFadden 14 Craig Gilroy
Tommy O'Brien 13 Matt Faddes
Robbie Henshaw 12 Angus Curtis
Cian Kelleher 11 Angus Kernohan
Harry Byrne 10 Bill Johnston
Jamison Gibson-Park 9 David Shanahan

Peter Dooley 1 Andrew Warwick
Sean Cronin 2 Adam McBurney
Andrew Porter 3 Tom O'Toole
Scott Fardy (C)
4 David O'Connor
Josh Murphy 5 Alan O'Connor (C)
Will Connors 6 Matty Rea
Scott Penny 7 Nick Timoney
Max Deegan 8 Greg Jones

Replacements Bryan Byrne 16 John Andrew
Cian Healy 17 Kyle McCall
Jack Aungier 18 Ross Kane
Oisin Dowling 19 Jack Regan
Josh van der Flier 20 Azur Allison
Hugh O'Sullivan 21 Jonny Stewart
Ciaran Frawley 22 Stewart Moore
Conor O'Brien 23 Ethan McIlroy

Not Considered
due to Injury
Dan Leavy,
Barry Daly,
Jack Conan,
Vakh Abdaladze,
Rory O'Loughlin,
Ronan Kelleher,
Johnny Sexton,
Ross Byrne

Officials Referee: George Clancy (IRFU),
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), AR2: Kieran Barry (IRFU),
TMO: Simon McDowell (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-12-19