Rory Best is set to make his 200th Ulster appearance in tomorrow night’s Guinness PRO14 clash against Leinster at Kingspan Stadium.
Best is the second player in two weeks to make his 200th appearance for the province with Robbie Diack joining the illustrious club last week against La Rochelle. Paul Marshall could make it three in three against Southern Kings.
Not only will the Leinster match mark an incredible achievement for Ulster’s captain, but Aaron Cairns will make his first start for Ulster at scrum half and Jonny Stewart could make his first senior appearance off the bench.
Callum Black is retained in the front row and is joined by Best and Rodney Ah You who replaces Wiehahn Herbst. Herbst has been omitted from the match day squad for the first time this season. Ulster welcome back Ross Kane on the bench. Iain Henderson retains the captaincy and starts in the second row alongside Alan O’Connor. Jean Deysel returns to a strong back row and is joined by Sean Reidy on the blindside and Chris Henry on the openside.
Both John Cooney and Paul Marshall are out so Aaron Cairns joins Christian Lealiifano at half back. Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall are midfield partners for the fourth time this season while Tommy Bowe swaps to the right wing to accommodate the recall of Jacob Stockdale. Charles Piutau starts at full back for the sixth time in a row.
Leinster haven’t won in Belfast since May 2014 but have named a strong side. Ireland internationals, Rob and Dave Kearney both start as does Jack McGrath, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien and Jordi Murphy. Rob Kearney has picked up yellow cards in each of his last three matches at Kingspan. Leinster sit level on points with Ulster in Conference B but Ulster are just ahead on points difference. Both sides will be looking to stay within touch of Scarlets who take on Cardiff Blues tomorrow night.
Leinster are fresh off a successful European break with a win against Montpellier and a thumping victory against Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun. Leinster were 17-10 up against their PRO14 rivals at half time before tries from Cian Healy and Noel Reid secured the win and bonus point to cement Leinster’s position at the top of Pool C. Their only loss this season was against Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in late September.
A win against Leinster would go along way to easing the pain over the result against La Rochelle and there will be no lack of motivation to get the job done. It will be hard for Black and Ah You who are up against Lions’ scrummagers in the form of Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong but Black stepped up to the plate against La Rochelle last week. Both back lines have the potential to run from anywhere however Ulster will feel they’ve got the slight edge and Leinster will feel they have the edge in the pack.
The FRU predicts: A physical arm wrestle but the Ulster’s home advantage has benefitted them in recent occasions against Leinster. A piece of magic from either Stockdale or Piutau has been enough to get Ulster over the line in earlier matches and I think this will be no different. Ulster by 5 points.
|Charles Piutau||15||Rob Kearney|
|Tommy Bowe||14||Adam Byrne|
|Luke Marshall||13||Rory O’Loughlin|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||Noel Reid|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Dave Kearney|
|Christian Lealiifano||10||Ross Byrne|
|Aaron Cairns||9||Jamie Gibson Park|
|Callum Black||1||Jack McGrath|
|Rory Best||2||James Tracy|
|Rodney Ah You||3||Tadgh Furlong|
|Alan O’Connor||4||Devin Toner|
|Iain Henderson ©||5||James Ryan|
|Sean Reidy||6||Dan Leavy|
|Chris Henry||7||Jordi Murphy|
|Sean Deysel||8||Sean O’Brien ©|
|Rob Herring||16||Ricahrd Strauss|
|Andy Warwick||17||Cian Healy|
|Ross Kane||18||Andrew Porter|
|Kieran Treadwell||19||Ross Moloney|
|Robbie Diack||20||Jack Conan|
|Jonny Stewart||21||Luke McGrath|
|Peter Nelson||22||Cathal Marsh|
|Louis Ludik||23||Jordan Larmour|