Preview: Ulster v Leinster

Date published: April 23 2015

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_Leinster_number_eight_Jamie_Heaslip

Leinster return from Marseille determined to build on that much-improved performance when they face an in-form Ulster side at Ravenhill on Friday.

Despite an extra-time defeat to reigning European champions Toulon, Leinster will have been buoyed by their efforts as few gave them a chance of winning.

However it's back to the rather bleak PRO12 picture for them this week as they currently sit eight points adrift of a fourth-placed Ospreys, which means it is likely to be curtains if they go down in Belfast as few would bet against the Ospreys beating the Blues on recent form. They should win at the Millennium Stadium.

Form is something Ulster are in a rich vein of right now and it's no surprise they have named the exact same matchday 23 that beat Connacht last time out.

Thirteen internationals are named in the squad for the inter-provincial match.

The PRO12's leading try scorer, Craig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe and Louis Ludik, who all got tries at the Sportsground last time out, are named in the back three, with Gilroy on the left wing, Bowe on the right and South African Ludik starting at full-back.

Darren Cave and Jared Payne continue their midfield partnership with Cave starting at inside centre and Payne at 13.

Paddy Jackson is named at fly-half with Springbok, Ruan Pienaar continuing at scrum-half.

Up front, Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst start either side of captain Rory Best in the front-row.

Dan Tuohy partners Franco van der Merwe in the second-row, with Iain Henderson starting at blindside and fellow Ireland international, Chris Henry, selected at openside.

Roger Wilson is named at number eight and will draw level with Paddy Wallace as Ulster’s all-time PRO12 appearance record holder as he plays his 131st game in the competition.

The game marks a milestone in the career of Jamie Heaslip as he makes his 200th appearance for Leinster, having made his debut against the Ospreys in March 2005. 

The number eight becomes only the fifth player to have reached the double century of caps with Gordon D'Arcy out in front on 259 caps. 

Since his debut in 2005, Heaslip has incredibly started 191 of those games scoring 35 tries. His form at club level has seen him capped 72 times for Ireland, winning the Grand Slam in 2009 and Six Nations titles in 2014 and 2015. 

In total, there are four changes to the Leinster XV from the team that played against Toulon in the semi-final of the Champions Cup. 

Fergus McFadden has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a thumb injury and had a successful operation on Thursday and as a result, his place on the right wing is taken by Zane Kirchner, who also replaced him on Sunday. The rest of the back-three includes Luke Fitzgerald on the left wing and Rob Kearney once again at full-back. 

Gordon D'Arcy and Ben Te'o form the midfield partnership with Isaac Boss and Jimmy Gopperth at half-back.

In the pack Richardt Strauss comes in a hooker, with Cian Healy selected at loosehead prop and Mike Ross at tighthead. The second-row partnership of Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy is once again retained.

Dominic Ryan comes into the side at blindside flanker with Sean O'Brien at openside and Jamie Heaslip leading the side from the base of the scrum.

Form: Ulster's only defeat in their last seven PRO12 matches was 22-26 to the Dragons in Newport in round 17, whilst the 24 league points picked up in their last six matches is the best tally of any side in that period. Ulster have won all nine PRO12 games played in Belfast this season with their most recent defeat at the venue in the tournament being when Leinster were the visitors in round 21 last year. Leinster's only win in their last six matches in all competitions was 18-15 over Bath in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup on 4th April, whilst their single victory in their last six PRO12 encounters came at home to Zebre in round 15. Leinster have won their last five fixtures against Ulster, although four of these have been played at the RDS Arena. The Leinstermen have lost on just two of their last ten visits to Kingspan Stadium.

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Darren Cave, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Wiahahn Herbst, 2 Rory Best (c), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Andrew Warwick, 18 Bronson Ross, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Stuart McCloskey.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Zane Kirchner, 13 Ben Te'o, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Ben Marshall, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Darragh Fanning.

Date: Friday, April 24
Venue: Ravenhill
Kick-off: 19:35 BST (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Johnny Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Olly Hodges (Ireland)
Television match official: Seamus Flannery (Ireland)

COMMENTS