Friday, January 02, 2015

Preview : Leinster v Ulster


Happy as I am to see Fergus McFadden back in the Leinster side, the actual selection is of secondary importance.  This Saturday, it's all about the performance.

And by performance I don't mean we must run in tries from all angles from the kickoff...that's hardly something you'd expect against any Ulster side coming down the M1, let alone one that really needs the Pro12 points given they are unlikely to see knockout European action this season.

What the Leinster faithful need to see from the boys in blue is an 80-minute display of both aggression and focus - even if the players and coaches don't read social media they'll know full well what's expected of them after the St Stephen's Day massacre

Going back to McFadden's return - while I think criticism of Darragh Fanning this season has been unfair, I'd never have him in the side ahead of McFadden or Dave Kearney and with Madigan retained at outhalf it certainly is a promising looking backline.

Again, however, I'd have my concerns about Isaac Boss at 9.  Twice in recent poor performances it took the introductions of Eoin Reddan and Luke McGrath respectively to kickstart the Leinster offence so the effectiveness of our backs will heavily depend on Boss' ability to get the ball to them.

Then of course we have the small matter of Ulster's scrumhalf, namely their returning talisman Ruan Pienaar.  He's certainly the kind of player who doesn't need time to settle back into a lineup and his own backline isn't too shabby either with Bowe and Gilroy on the wings.

The battle of the centres will be interesting to say the least.  Stuart Olding and Darren Cave make a very potent combination for the Ulstermen but you'd have to expect D'Arcy and Fitzgerald together for the second week in a row to start producing the goods, particularly on defence. 

Our pack is also vastly improved with the return of McGrath, Ross, Toner and Heaslip, but here too there are doubts about the supply of ball particularly at lineout time.  My blood pressure tends to go up whenever we have an attacking throw these days and the darts simply have to stick.

When it comes to the bench I'd say Leinster have a slight edge...the two 23s of Ben Te'o and Luke Marshall will be keen to get gametime while for Leinster Michael Bent and Tadhg Furlong have shown themselves to be at very least able third string props for us in recent weeks.

The bookies seem to be expecting a response from Matt O'Connor's men as they have it as an 8-point win for the home side.  I think we'll finish on top but it should be closer I'd lean towards a 3- or 4-point margin and it could take a late score to secure the points.

Either way here's to an entertaining inter-provincial derby for a sell-out RDS crowd to ring in what promises to be an exciting 2015 for Irish rugby.

#COYBIB  JLP

LEINSTER : 15. Zane Kirchner 14. Fergus McFadden 13. Luke Fitzgerald 12. Gordon D'Arcy 11. Dave Kearney 10. Ian Madigan 9. Isaac Boss
1. Jack McGrath 2, Richardt Strauss 3. Mike Ross 4. Devin Toner 5. Mike McCarthy 6. Jack Conan 7. Shane Jennings 8. Jamie Heaslip CAPTAIN
16. Sean Cronin 17. Michael Bent 18. Tadhg Furlong 19. Kane Douglas 20. Jordi Murphy 21. Luke McGrath 22. Jimmy Gopperth 23. Ben Te'o

ULSTER : 15 P Nelson; 14 T Bowe, 13 D Cave, 12 S Olding, 11 C Gilroy, 10 P Jackson, 9 R Pienaar
1 C Black, 2 R Best (Capt), 3 W Herbst, 4 D Tuohy, 5 F vd Merwe, 6 R Diack, 7 C Ross, 8 R Wilson;
16 R Herring, 17 A Warwick, 18 B Ross, 19 A O’Connor, 20 S Reidy, 21 P Marshall, 22 I Humphreys, 23 L Marshall.

Guinness PRO12 - Round 12
At RDS Arena, 2.40pm. 
Live on Sky Sports and BBC Northern Ireland
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 35th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Eddie Hogan-O'Connell, Mark Connolly (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Jude Quinn (IRFU)
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