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Leinster Rugby vs Ulster Rugby
Heineken Champions Cup
Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Friday, 30th March 2019, 17:45

TV: Live on BT Sports

Leinster are back in European knock-out action this week but it's fair to say the build-up has been pretty low key.

The gloom from the wreckage of Ireland's Six Nations campaign is certainly still hanging around and if we're honest the prospect of playing Ulster doesn't quicken the heart the same as playing a Wasps, Saracens or Toulouse. Leinster are fifteen point favourites with the bookies and that sounds about right. Leinster really should win the game comfortably and more than likely will.

However there's always a chance of an upset. Don't forget Munster were red hot favourites seven years ago in the quarter-final but Ulster came to Thomond Park and won. They made their way to the final that year but were hammered by Leinster and also lost a Pro12 final to the same team a year later. Since then Ulster have been in the doldrums really and last season was a disaster on and off the pitch with two head coaches and the chief executive all moving on.

But they did make one good decision in deciding to poach Dan McFarland from Scotland, even if his arrival was delayed slightly by contractual issues. He's quietly gone about his business and created better structures and performances have steadily improved.

Their season really jumped into life in December when they unexpectedly beat the Scarlets home and away in the European double header. They followed that up with a brilliant helter-skelter win over Racing before winning a tense one away to Leicester to qualify. Ulster have actually been unbeaten in seven games since they sent a bunch of weans to get hammered by Leinster at the RDS just after Christmas.

It will be a big game for several ex-Leinster players in the Ulster ranks. There's the big name internationals like Jordi Murphy, Marty Moore and John Cooney but there are several less heralded players like Alan O'Connor, Nick Timoney, Greg Jones and Dave Shanahan who've built solid careers up north after not making the academy at Leinster. But the breakthrough player has been academy loosehead prop Eric O'Sullivan who first came to wider attention with a superb all round performance against the Scarlets in December when he made 20 odd tackles. He was so unknown that most assumed he was a local lad but he's actually a former Templeogue College student who arrived in Ulster via Trinity RFC.

Two other academy players Michael Lowry and Robert Baloucoune have made a big impression this season and all three are named in the squad for tomorrow.

Rory Best captains the team in what will be his 75th European game and he will pack down alongside O'Sullivan and Marty Moore in the front row. Iain Henderson has recovered from injury and will partner Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Jordi Murphy will play against his former club for the first time since his move to Ulster last summer and he's selected in a back row that also includes Marcell Coetzee and Nick Timoney.

John Cooney and Billy Burns will continue their half-back partnership and Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave are again paired in midfield, while Jacob Stockdale, the competition's joint top try scorer, is joined in an exciting back three by Lowry and Baloucoune. Luke Marshall has been included in the match day panel for the first time this season, after overcoming an ACL injury sustained against Ospreys in May last year.

For Leinster last week's defeat to Edinburgh was a bit of a non-event though it did break the winning run. Leo Cullen has rung the changes for this week and Jordan Larmour starts at full back with Adam Byrne and Dave Kearney on the wings. Rory O'Loughlin and Garry Ringrose are the centre partnership with Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne named in the half backs.

In the pack Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong are selected in the front row with Scott Fardy and James Ryan behind them in the second row. Rhys Ruddock captains the side from blindside flanker, with Sean O'Brien on the openside and Jack Conan completing the pack at the base of the scrum.

Ulster have nothing to lose and will throw it around, but Leinster should still have too much up front for them.

Leinster Rugby
Ulster Rugby
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Mike Lowry
Adam Byrne 14 Robert Baloucoune
Garry Ringrose 13 Darren Cave
Rory O'Loughlin 12 Stuart McCloskey
Dave Kearney 11 Jacob Stockdale
Ross Byrne 10 Billy Burns
Luke McGrath 9 John Cooney

Cian Healy 1 Eric O'Sullivan
Sean Cronin 2 Rory Best (C)
Tadhg Furlong 3 Marty Moore
Scott Fardy 4 Iain Henderson
James Ryan 5 Kieran Treadwell
Rhys Ruddock (C)
6 Nick Timoney
Sean O'Brien
7 Jordi Murphy
Jack Conan
8 Marcell Coetzee

Replacements James Tracy
16 Rob Herring
Ed Byrne 17 Andy Warwick
Andrew Porter
18 Wiehahn Herbst
Mick Kearney
19 Alan O'Connor
Dan Leavy
Sean Reidy
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Dave Shanahan
Noel Reid 22 Luke Marshall
Rob Kearney
23 Angus Kernohan

Not Considered
due to Injury
Will Connors,
Devin Toner,
Robbie Henshaw,
Josh van der Flier,
Johnny Sexton

Will Addison,
Craig Gilroy,
James Hume,
Louis Ludik,
Kyle McCall
Officials Referee: Romain Poite (France),
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Vincent Blasco Baque (France),
TMO: Denis Grenouillet (France)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-03-29