Match Preview: Ulster Rugby vs. Leinster Rugby

Andrew Trimble

Andrew Trimble is tackled by Josh van der Flier in November’s reverse fixture

Firstly, we must reflect on the fantastic contribution Nick Williams has made to Ulster Rugby.

The replacement for Pedrie Wannenburg, Williams’ signing was one that was met with much scepticism within supporters’ circles given his ill-fated time with Munster and Aironi. However he silenced all those doubters with a barnstorming first season that saw him named PRO12 Player of the Year in 2012/13, which was then rewarded with a new contract with us.

A player whose head-banging ferocity drew fans from all corners of the province, Williams was just as much a positive personality off the field as he was on it. A likeable and friendly guy, Williams will be sorely missed not just for his on-field contributions but as a squad member and a teammate. He shall always be an Ulsterman whether he wears the white of his province or not and we wish him all our very best for his future endeavours.

A special mention must also go to Sammy Arnold who, for the moment at least, has made his final appearance for Ulster as well after he too was ruled out for the remainder of the season. A very promising centre, Arnold has the potential to excel at Munster and we wish him all the very best (just not against us).

Back to the rugby though, and there’s no better way to finish off the season than with a heated interpro in Belfast!

Alright, we do still have the Ospreys to visit next weekend but right now that can’t be thought about because we know if we’re even slightly off our game this weekend then we will be punished by Leinster. Maybe they aren’t the side they’ve been in previous seasons but they are still a highly dangerous side with punishing forwards and lightning quick backs.

We tend to see our boys raise their game for these kinds of match-ups though. Last year we beat them off the park after falling behind early on the scoreboard and the year before we were still within a penalty of beating them in Belfast despite having a man sent off in the first half. Leinster always seem to bring out the best in our team – and we’d better hope they do the same this weekend too.

With the Scarlets taking on the Dragons as part of Judgement Day in Cardiff, it’s likely that they will pick up the maximum haul there which means we need four points against our old rivals to ensure we go into the final round ahead of them and knowing we control our own destiny in Swansea. Lose, and we will go into a second must-win scenario and, given our away form this season, it’s no guarantee we’ll win in Wales.

So that just makes this week all the more important and all the more difficult. Having to deal with the added pressure, as well as an injury list that is piling up by the week, takes its toll on a squad and it will be a credit to the character of this side if we can pull off a great performance and pick up the victory we so desperately crave.

By contrast, Leinster are going through the opposite to us – their injury list is decreasing. They have Sean O’Brien back on the bench this week and Marty Moore was passed fit for this weekend too although he doesn’t feature – an emphasis on the depth they have available to them. They have almost a full squad to choose from (bar a couple of players here and there) so we will be facing one of the PRO12’s strongest line-ups.

This will be probably our toughest test of the season in terms of the opposition we’re facing and the result we require (Saracens were a better side but were we really expecting a win there?) and it is a test we have to pass. This game will be a real assessment of our title aspirations and with a depleted squad it’ll take all of our guys to pull together and perform like they always seem to do when Leinster roll into town.

Because if they don’t then it really isn’t worth considering what might happen.

The stats

Realistically it is probably beyond us anyway, but if we want to keep our slim chances of a home play-off alive then this is a must-win game. Results elsewhere will more than likely end that possibility anyway but, as far as the things that we can control go, we must win this game.

Our only defeat in our last four PRO12 games was away to Glasgow in round 18 while we have only lost once at the Kingspan Stadium since January – our 20-21 defeat to the Scarlets in round 15.

Leinster’s last five PRO12 games have all been won by the home side on the day, but they do still boast an impressive record on the road in the league having picked up five wins from their last eight opportunities.

Our visitors do have the edge in this fixture though as they have only lost one of their seven meetings with us – this fixture last season when we triumphed 26-10 at the Kingspan Stadium.

The teams

Three changes for Les Kiss and Ulster with Andrew Trimble returning from illness to start on the wing in place of the injured Tommy Bowe while Stuart McCloskey has also returned from injury to start at inside centre ahead of Stuart Olding. The final change is in the back row where Chris Henry starts in place of Roger Wilson with Sean Reidy shifting to number eight to accommodate him.

On the other hand there are nine changes for Leinster from their win over Edinburgh at home a couple of weeks ago. Isa Nacewa captains the side on the wing and Dave Kearney makes his 100th appearance for Leinster on the other in place of the suspended Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald respectively. Garry Ringrose comes back into the team at outside centre with Ben Te’o shifting to inside centre in place of Noel Reid. Johnny Sexton is reintroduced at fly-half in place of Ian Madigan. Up front Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong form a new prop partnership while there is a brand new second row partnership also with Devin Toner and Hayden Triggs brought back into the team. The final change is at number eight where Jamie Heaslip replaces Jordi Murphy.

 

Ulster Rugby vs. Leinster Rugby

Saturday 30th April, 15:00

Kingspan Stadium

Guinness PRO12 – Round 21

 

Live on Sky Sports 1

 

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Jared Payne, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Luke Marshall, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Callum Black, 2. Rory Best (capt.), 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Pete Browne, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Sean Reidy.

Replacements: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Andy Warwick, 19. Robbie Diack, 20. Roger Wilson, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Stuart Olding, 23. Darren Cave.

LEINSTER RUGBY

15. Rob Kearney, 14. Isa Nacewa (capt.), 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Ben Te’o, 11. Dave Kearney, 10. Johnny Sexton, 9. Luke McGrath; 1. Jack McGrath, 2. Richardt Strauss, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Devin Toner, 5. Hayden Triggs, 6. Rhys Ruddock, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: 16. Sean Cronin, 17. Peter Dooley, 18. Mike Ross, 19. Mick Kearney, 20. Jordi Murphy, 21. Eoin Reddan, 22. Ian Madigan, 23. Luke Fitzgerald.

 

Referee: George Clancy (IRFU, 81st competition game)

Assistant Referees: Sean Gallagher, Leo Colgan (both IRFU)

Citing Commissioner: Eddie Walsh (IRFU)

TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)