Dan McFarland has made six changes to Ulster’s starting 15 as they travel to the RDS in a top of the conference clash against Leinster.
Andrew Warwick makes his second start of the season and third start for the province since the beginning of last season. Marcell Coetzee, Alan O’Connor and Jordi Murphy return to the starting lineup while Dan gives Greg Jones the nod ahead of Nick Timoney who’s shown good form over the last couple of matches.
Michael Lowry is the only change to the backline and he replaces Jacob Stockdale at fullback who sustained an injury in the closing minutes of the win over Munster last Saturday.
Leinster have picked an incredibly strong team for tomorrow’s night’s fixture. All of the starting 15 are internationally capped, 14 for Ireland and Scott Fardy who is capped 97 times for Australia.
There were some midweek doubts over Johnny Sexton but he pulls through and starts, shifting Ross Byrne into the 13 channel in a bizarre change to the team. I will be surprised if Byrne lines up in that position and suspect that Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have a few tricks up their sleeve. I would have thought Jimmy O’Brien, who is named on the bench, would be a better fit at outside centre.
Defensively, I can’t see Byrne defending the outside channel because of his lack of inexperience in that position. Particularly with Ulster’s ability to strike off first phase, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robbie Henshaw line up in that position when defending scrums and lineouts.
In attack it allows Leinster two have two playmakers on the pitch and I would imagine he will split with Sexton for midfield scrums. There is also the possibility that it’s because Leinster are down to the bare bones at 13, as Garry Ringrose, Conor O’Brien, Ciaran Frawley, Tommy O’Brien and Rory O’Loughlin are all injured.
Caelan Doris was Ireland’s stand out player in the U20 World Championship 2018 and has made the eight shirt his own, pushing Jack Conan and Max Deegan down the pecking order. Rhys Ruddock has been a reliable presence during the international window and he returns from injury to form an eye watering trio with Doris and Josh van der Flier.
Ulster haven’t won in the RDS since March 2013 and have lost every away game to Leinster since then. Overall Ulster have won only five games in the same time frame, losing the other 16 in the process. There have been some heavy defeats including a 38-7 loss in January 2018 and a 40-7 loss in January 2019.
|30-3-19||European Cup||Romain Poite||Lansdowne Road||18||21|
|29-8-20||PRO14||George Clancy||Lansdowne Road||10||28|
|12-9-20||PRO14||Andrew Brace||Lansdowne Road||5||27|
|Hugo Keenan||15||Michael Lowry|
|Jordan Larmour||14||Matt Faddes|
|Ross Byrne||13||James Hume|
|Robbie Henshaw||12||Stuart McCloskey|
|Dave Kearney||11||Ethan McIlroy|
|Johnny Sexton||10||Billy Burns|
|Jamison Gibson-Park||9||John Cooney|
|Cian Healy||1||Andrew Warwick|
|Sean Cronin||2||Rob Herring|
|Andrew Porter||3||Marty Moore|
|Scott Fardy||4||Alan O’Connor|
|James Ryan||5||Sam Carter|
|Rhys Ruddock||6||Greg Jones|
|Josh van der Flier||7||Jordi Murphy|
|Caelan Doris||8||Marcell Coetzee|
|James Tracy||16||John Andrew|
|Ed Byrne||17||Eric O’Sullivan|
|Michael Bent||18||Tom O’Toole|
|Ross Molony||19||Kieran Treadwell|
|Jack Conan||20||Nick Timoney|
|Luke McGrath||21||David Shanahan|
|Harry Byrne||22||Ian Madigan|
|Jimmy O’Brien||23||Ben Moxham|
The man in the middle…
Andrew Brace had a rough ending to the Autumn Nations Cup after being subject to abuse on social media in the aftermath of the England v France match. This will be his 12th Ulster match since September 2015 and he refereed the last meeting between the sides; a 27-5 Leinster win in the final of last season’s Guinness PRO14.
This will be the fourth time he’s officiated in matches between the sides with tomorrow’s night hosts winning two and Ulster winning once in a 17-13 win that marked the last games of Ruan Pienaar, Roger Wilson and Callum Black.
Overall, Brace has reffed six Ulster wins and six losses and sent Matty Rea off in Connacht’s famous win at Ravenhill two years ago.
The FRU predicts…
I’ve been looking forward to this match up for quite a few months. I think Ulster have been in a rich vein of form, but now they have the chance to put themselves in the driving seat for a place in the final. I think this is the best chance Ulster have had in years to get a result from the RDS and I believe they can do it, but I have this niggling feeling that Leinster are going to come out top trumps yet again.