Monday 19 February 2018

International brigade can keep Blues on home straight

Conor George

Conor George

THERE was much to admire in the determination shown by Leinster when they overcame the challenge of Glasgow last Saturday.

Half an hour into the contest Leinster were trailing by 11 points and the visitors were in control. Only the boot of Ian Madigan was keeping them in the contest at all.

Madigan then stamped his class on the game. He added three penalties to the two already kicked and scored and converted a try himself to steer Leinster to victory.

Madigan and his rival on the international front, Paddy Jackson, come face-to-face tonight but there are plenty of subplots other than the battle of the 10s at work – bragging rights for a start, not to mention the quest for a home semi-final.

Ulster enjoyed a 14-point buffer between themselves and Leinster at one stage of the season but now find themselves a point behind, with their last league victory coming back in February against Zebre.

Of course in the background for both combatants are their European adventures next weekend and the need to find the right balance between staying fresh for those games and be battle-hardened in readiness. As a consequence Leinster have called upon all their international players, giving the team a very healthy and intimidating glow.

Jamie Heaslip takes the armband, with both Ireland props – Cian Healy and Mike Ross – and Rob Kearney also starting tonight.

Ulster are also looking particularly healthy. John Afoa is back in New Zealand for the birth of his child and Luke Marshall is still recovering from concussion. However, Rory Best, Craig Gilroy and Chris Henry are all returned to the side, as are Ruan Pienaar and Nick Williams.

Ulster haven't won in Dublin since 1999. Given the strength of the home side tonight it's hard to see that trend changing on this occasion.

Verdict: Leinster

LEINSTER – R Kearney; D Kearney, B Macken, G D'Arcy, I Nacewa; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; D Toner, Q Roux; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Reps: S Cronin, J McGrath, J Hagan, L Cullen, R Ruddock, J Cooney, A Goodman, A Conway.

ULSTER – J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, S Olding, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, R Lutton; J Muller, D Tuohy; R Diack, C Henry, N Williams. Reps: R Herring, C Black, K McCall, L Stevenson, I Henderson, R Wilson, P Marshall, P Nelson.

Ref – G Clancy (IRFU)

Leinster v Ulster,

Live, RTE 2 / BBC2, 6.15

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