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O'Connor goes with Gopperth

It does seem strange that Leinster coach Matt O'Connor has handed Jimmy Gopperth both shots at the two-match pre-season to 2014/2015.

Once again, Ian Madigan is in his slipstream when he needs to be out front making the running.

It could well be down to the individual management of Madigan through the Player Welfare Programme.

Hooker Bryan Byrne, Gopperth, wing Darragh Fanning and centre Brendan Macken make up the quartet left over from those which started last week at Franklin's Gardens


The eye-catching choice is that of Byrne because there were lineout problems that ceded possession and ground to The Saints last Saturday.

Previously, this had been offered as a strength of Byrne, still 20, along with a highly skilled all-round game that makes him a certain future challenger to Richardt Strauss, Seán Cronin and Aaron Dundon.

For Ulster, the partnership of Stuart Olding and Jared Payne at centre is one that could endure with both men hotly tipped for Ireland international honours leading into the 2015 World Cup.

Twenty-one-year-old Olding had last season wiped out by a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament playing for the Ulster Ravens last November just as he was about to lay down a serious marker to Luke Marshall.

The near-panic about the conclusion of Brian O'Driscoll is well compensated by the emergence of New Zealander Payne as the man most obvious to play at thirteen for the November internationals and beyond.

The simple fact is Payne - approaching his peak as an athlete at 28 - should be able to provide more, certainly in attack, than O'Driscoll could in his last season.

Leinster: Z Kirchner; F McFadden, B Macken, N Reid, D Fanning; J Gopperth, L McGrath; C Healy, B Byrne, M Ross, K McLaughlin, M McCarthy, J Conan, S Jennings, S O'Brien (capt).

Ulster: L Ludik; M Allen, J Payne, S Olding, C Gilroy; I Humphreys, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring, W Herbst, D Tuohy, F van der Merwe, R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson (capt).