The final game of this seasonal derby series is upon us. One narrow, lucky win. One hot tempered, nasty loss. What will be in store tonight?
Here are the teams named for this clash:
|Jack McGrath||1||Kyle McCall|
|Seán Cronin||2||Adam McBurney|
|Andrew Porter||3||Wiehahn Herbst|
|Ross Molony||4||Matthew Dalton|
|Mick Kearney||5||Alan O’Connor (Captain)|
|Josh Murphy||6||Greg Jones|
|Scott Penny||7||Sean Reidy|
|Max Deegan||8||Nick Timoney|
|Jamison Gibson-Park||9||David Shanahan|
|Ciarán Frawley||10||Johnny McPhillips|
|Barry Daly||11||Angus Kernohan|
|Noel Reid||12||James Hume|
|Conor O’Brien||13||Darren Cave|
|Adam Byrne||14||Robert Lyttle|
|Rob Kearney (Captain)||15||Michael Lowry|
|James Tracy||16||John Andrew|
|Ed Byrne||17||Andrew Warwick|
|Michael Bent||18||Tom O’Toole|
|Oisín Dowling||19||Caleb Montgomery|
|Caelan Doris||20||Clive Ross|
|Hugh O’Sullivan||21||Jonny Stewart|
|Ross Byrne||22||Bruce Houston|
|Jimmy O’Brien||23||Peter Nelson|
We have been used to seeing plenty of Leinster academy players, and there are a few in Leinster’s squad tonight. Ulster on the other hand are starting four academy players: Dalton, Kernohan, Hume and Lowry, with two debutants, Montgomery and Houston on the bench.
It feels like Ulster are not fielding their strongest team, although some of the absences are imposed on them by injury. They have one eye on Europe next week, where they welcome Racing 92 to the Kingspan Stadium.
A home win in that will see them rise to second place, and probably secure them one of the runner up spots at least, with eighteen points. So we can forgive them for coming to Dublin with a weakened team.
It is good to see both Rob Kearney and Jack McGrath back in the first team. They need a run out to make sure that they are considered for European action, not to mention the upcoming Ireland squad announcement.
With James Lowe’s suspension (two weeks were handed down, reduced by fifty per cent due to his good disciplinary record and attitude at the hearing), the back three could do with someone of Rob’s experience coming back into the side.
Leinster also will play a much changed team from last week as they await the arrival of Toulouse in a make or break game next week. Losing with a bonus point would not rule us out completely, but it would cause an awkward away trip to Coventry against Wasps, and force us into an away quarter final should we qualify.
The pack is unrecognisable from last week, although still contains a decent level of experience. Having McGrath and Cronin, with their combined three hundred caps adds a lot of experience. Scott Penny gets a chance to build on a couple of good games at the tail end of last year.
Leinster look different in the back line also. No Sexton, Ringrose, or Luke McGrath this week. Noel Reid can continue to build on some good performances over the Christmas period. Let’s hope he connects well with the back three, Daly, Byrne and Kearney, with some of those long, defence-shredding passes.
It is hard to argue with the +23 spread that the bookies have assigned. It is probably a value bet. They can get that far ahead, but will they keep Ulster from scoring a consolation try to keep the margin wide enough?
Leinster won this fixture 38-7 last year, on exactly the same weekend. That was the second of two victories against our conference rivals, winning the first 10-25 up in Belfast.
Leinster to win by a decent score. I’ll back them to beat the spread, at least to keep the what I think will be a one-sided game interesting as a spectacle.