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Preview: Ulster v Leinster

24th May 2013 11:09

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Leinster prop Cian Healy taking contact

Powerhouse: Cian Healy

Leinster will run out for their second home final in a week on Saturday when they host league winners Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO12 Final at the RDS.

Their visitors' decision - before the play-offs - to pick this venue seemed destined only to end this way. Having a home dressing room hardly helps.

However, Ulster ended a fourteen year wait for an away victory over their rivals this term, which will certainly boost confidence heading into the match. Defensively they were exceptional on that day in March as Robbie Diack and Iain Henderson's tries were enough to best Ian Madigan's kicking.

They will need another committed showing in this final and with two weeks to prepare for the game, Ulster have had seven days more rest than their hosts. Leinster though will not worry about that as they have serious momentum following an impressive 34-13 success over Stade Franšais.

The big story this week has been the more detailed injury update regarding Sean O'Brien coming from British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland rather than Leinster boss Joe Schmidt. One wonders whether Gatland put his foot in it, so to speak, with Leinster keen to play that one close to their chest. Ultimately the powerful flanker doesn't feature in the 23.

Schmidt says goodbye to Leinster this week and if ideal farewells were being picked then a European-PRO12 double isn't too bad for the outgoing coach, who moves up to Test level.

In contrast, Ulster will hope for a first silverware since 2006 - when they won the Celtic League title thanks to a 19-17 victory at the Ospreys. David Humphreys was the hero that day with a drop-goal and he will be watching on from the stands craving a similar story.

They have received a boost with team news showing John Afoa starting at tighthead in the only change to the Ulster team that defeated the Scarlets a fortnight ago. The All Black prop missed the play-off with a hamstring strain but has been passed fit for the season finale.

"It's great to be able to welcome John back into the starting line-up," said Mark Anscombe.

"John and players like Ruan (Pienaar) and Johann (Muller) have been part of World Cup winning squads. When the big moments come, they are cool heads under pressure and you can't put a price on that. When you put them together with our Ireland internationals and our excellent young players like Stuart Olding then you have a great mix."

Meanwhile for Leinster, Isa Nacewa will make his 126th and final Leinster appearance on Saturday and he starts in an outside backline which features Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney. McFadden's positional switch caters for the return of Brian O'Driscoll who starts.

Isaac Boss makes his 25th appearance of the season and will partner Jonathan Sexton and the Irish ten will earn his 110th provincial cap (having scored 1,013 points to date).

Up front, Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss return to the starting line-up after coming on as replacements in the Amlin Challenge Cup final victory over Stade Francais last weekend.

The team will be led by the returning Leo Cullen who partners Devin Toner at second-row. Kevin McLaughlin, meanwhile, returns to the back-row in place of O'Brien (bruised knee).

McLaughlin will form an experienced back-row unit alongside Shane Jennings - who is set to make his 175th appearance - and British and Irish Lions number eight Jamie Heaslip.

Prediction: It will not be a repeat of Twickenham last year as Ulster are not 28 points off this side. However, we feel the Amlin Challenge Cup winners will have too much. Leinster by 5!

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Tommy Bowe, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Mike McComish, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Michael Allen, 23 Peter Nelson.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Ian Madigan, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen (c), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 John Cooney, 22 Andrew Goodman, 23 Andrew Conway.

Date: Saturday, May 25
Kick-off: 16:45 BST
Venue: RDS, Dublin
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
Television match official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)
Citing Commissioner: Achille Reali (Italy)

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