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Blues to return to winning ways


Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has activated an entire new pack of forwards with which to submit Ulster at a sold-out RDS this afternoon.

The introduction of Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs and the back row of Sean O'Brien, Josh van der Flier and Jamie Heaslip should swing the pendulum of momentum in their favour.

This is rubber-stamped by the omission of Ireland captain Rory Best, their injured cornerstone Wiehahn Herbst and that freakish talent Iain Henderson.

In the same way the Munster supporters would have felt they deserved a better turnout from Leinster, the Ulster amalgam devalues this interprovincial.

This is a decision taken out of the hands of the respective provinces by the IRFU player welfare programme.

Leo Cullen and Les Kiss do the best they can with the cards handed out by the IRFU.

In contrast, the best interests of Ireland have to be first and foremost for the hierarchy. For instance, it is believed Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney trained fully this week.

It should have been enough to find a place in Cullen's game plan.

Sadly, it seems they have been held back due to the cautious approach by Ireland.

The Leinster coach has noted how Ulster lacked the killer instinct to turn four points into five at home to Connacht.

"Yeah, I don't know if that was the five days catching up on them," he said.

"They looked to be in a very dominant position in that game, for sure.

"It was very similar to last year's game against Connacht as well.

"It looked like Ulster were going to run away with it.

"You have to give credit to Connacht, they battled their way back in and made it a dog-fight at the ruck."

This is where the complete nature of Leinster's back row should sway the day.

The edge in excellence is what they will be after against the undoubted commitment of Clive Ross, Sean Reidy and Roger Wilson.

"They've had a hell of a lot better lead-in," said Cullen.

"I presume Ulster were able to train properly having played before Christmas whereas we're trying to manage our way through.

"It's part of the challenge of managing this period."

In truth, Leinster have been well treated there, in terms of the player welfare policy.

For example, they have had to rest internationals for Ireland's benefit which should serve them well this afternoon.

Ulster director of rugby Kiss will have Andrew Trimble back from a foot injury sustained in the November internationals.

But Best will sit this one out and the same goes for Paddy Jackson, with Ruan Pienaar moving out one to fly-half and Paul Marshall placed at nine.

It will also be the first sighting of Charles Piutau in an Ulster jersey at the RDS, after the All Black starred for Wasps in a Champions Cup win at the venue last season.

The home crowd will hope to be entertained by his skills, as long as it doesn't lead to an Ulster win.

Leinster: I Nacewa (capt); A Byrne, G Ringrose, N Reid, R O'Loughlin; R Byrne, L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Bent, D Toner, H Triggs, S O'Brien, J van der Flier, J Heaslip.

Ulster: C Piutau; A Trimble, D Cave, S McCloskey, T Bowe; R Pienaar, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring (capt), R Ah You, K Treadwell, F van der Merwe, C Ross, S Reidy, R Wilson.

Verdict: Leinster.

Leinster v Ulster, The RDS, Today (KO 3.0, Sky Sports 2)