O'Driscoll to start as Gibbes calls for ruthlessness
BRIAN O'DRISCOLL will square up to Ulster at Ravenhill this afternoon (4.0) after Leinster named a powerful side, featuring nine players who started in one or both of their recent Heineken Cup back-to-back clashes with Clermont.
While front-line players such as Gordon D'Arcy, Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan, Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Nathan Hines, Jamie Heaslip and Shane Jennings are rested for this Magners League clash, O'Driscoll -- short on game-time having missed three weeks with a jaw injury sustained at the end of November -- gets a run at outside centre next to Fergus McFadden.
Shaun Berne starts at out-half in place of Sexton, while Dave Kearney comes onto the left wing. Jason Harris-Wright takes over from Strauss at hooker with Clontarf's Aaron Dundon providing cover on the bench. In the second-row, Devin Toner starts alongside captain Leo Cullen, while the back-row of Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan and Sean O'Brien is packed with youthful vigour.
They face an Ulster team high on confidence after their back-to-back triumphs against Bath and one that includes many of the players who contributed to those two fixtures. Their Springbok contingent of Ruan Pienaar, BJ Botha, Johann Muller and Pedrie Wannenburg are all named, as is fellow South African Robbie Diack.
Despite a record of just one win over Leinster in their last 12 outings, this Ulster side will put it up to the visitors, particularly at a packed Ravenhill. Large numbers of supporters and staff came together yesterday to help clear the pitch of snow, which last week was six inches deep and the game was pronounced a sell out on Christmas Eve.
While delighted with the comprehensive victory over the French champions last weekend, Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes said the squad have identified definite areas that need to be improved upon.
"There were a few internal realities within the group after the Clermont game and while we had a positive result, the players understood in the analysis of the game that a few things were not up to scratch," said Gibbes.
"Our defensive line-out work and the try we conceded were pretty poor and, although the good work that was done in the 60-minute period allowed us to have a bit of a buffer, we should have been more ruthless."
Ulster 'wonderboy' Nevin Spence, who impressed hugely against Bath, starts next to Ian Whitten in the centres and the 20-year-old believes it is time the northern province emulated the success of their southern rivals.
"There is no doubt Ulster do not want to be in the shadow of Munster and Leinster anymore," said Spence. "They have shown their intent and ambition with the signings and they're not afraid to bring along some of the younger players to make sure there is a good base for the future."
It promises to be a close contest and Ulster start slight favourites as the home team, but, on the basis of the visitors' more potent and experienced backline, Leinster could just sneak it.
ULSTER -- A D'Arcy; C Gilroy, N Spence, I Whitten, S Danielli; N O'Connor, R Pienaar; P McAllister, N Brady, BJ Botha; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; P Wannenburg, C Henry, R Diack. Reps: A Kyriacou, D Fitzpatrick, B Young, T Barker, W Faloon, P Marshall, L Marshall, T Seymour.
LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, D Kearney; S Berne, I Boss; H van der Merwe, J Harris-Wright, M Ross; L Cullen, D Toner; R Ruddock, D Ryan, S O'Brien. Reps: A Dundon, J McGrath, C Newland, E O'Donoghue, B Marhsall, P O'Donohoe, I Madigan, A Conway
REF -- G Clancy (IRFU).
Ulster v Leinster,
Live, RTE 2, 4.0