Monday 21 October 2019

Cullen rests big hitters as Byrne skippers Blues in meaningless derby with Ulster

Ross Byrne captains Leinster and, barring injury, will be on the bench for the final.
Ross Byrne captains Leinster and, barring injury, will be on the bench for the final.

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Whatever happens in Ravenhill this evening, Leinster will finish top of Conference B and Ulster will be second.

Thus, the stakes are low and the teams reflect that fact. Ulster host Connacht in Belfast next Saturday in a knock-out game, while Leinster have the small matter of the European final to prepare for in a fortnight's time.

For those selected today, this is an opportunity to force themselves into the selection picture.

Ross Byrne captains Leinster and, barring injury, will be on the bench for the final. Fergus McFadden, Joe Tomane, Noel Reid and Dave Kearney are all vying for the No 23 spot.

Michael Bent could cover tighthead if Andrew Porter fails to recover from his chest injury, while Jack McGrath gets one last chance on what could be his last outing in blue before making the Kingspan Stadium his home when he moves north next season. He needs a superb performance to dislodge Ed Byrne at this stage.

Max Deegan and Caelan Doris are battling for a spot covering the back-row. For the rest, it's about putting yourself in the frame for the PRO14 semi-final a week after Newcastle when Leo Cullen is likely to make changes.

As for Ulster, this team is unrecognisable from the one that pushed their neighbours so close in the European quarter-final in March.

Michael Lowry and Darren Cave survive from the starting team, with the soon-to-retire centre captaining the team on what could be his last start in the white No 13 jersey.

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"It'll be pretty cool," he said of the honour of leading out the team. "I'm still hoping to play in the Connacht game but obviously, I won't be captain.

"It's nice that even with Ulster this sort of professional beast now, that it can be recognised that I haven't had too many opportunities to lead out the team and it'll be a nice thing for me to do. I'll be very proud to do it. Ultimately it's an interpro, Kingspan is sold out or close to it and I'll be looking forward to it.

"There'll be some young players but that's something I enjoy and I'm looking forward to it. It'll be an honour. The old enemy, the history from a month ago, let alone the games in the past years, it's going to be class. I'm very honoured and very excited."

If he brings Ireland U-20 second-row Ryan Baird off the Leinster bench today, Leo Cullen will have used 57 players over the course of the campaign.

The latest product from the St Michael's rugby factory, the 6ft 6ins lock is highly rated in the province's Academy and could be another big player for the future.

Josh Murphy starts ahead of him as an improvised lock as Cullen opts not to risk any of the front-liners given the lack of fit players in the second-row, while Ian Nagle is permitted to start for Ulster despite being on-loan from Leinster. It could turn out to be a strange game, with nothing on the line but provincial pride and the prospect of impressing coaches.

That should liberate the players, but the forecast of a cold, wet and blustery evening will hardly help to produce a throw-about game and it could come down to the desire of the forward packs. They look well enough matched up front, but the home side may have the greater cause to avenge their quarter-final loss.

Verdict: Ulster

ULSTER - M Lowry; D Busby, D Cave (capt), P Nelson, A Kernohan; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; A Warwick, J Andrew, R Kane; I Nagle, A O'Connor; M Rea, C Ross, S Reidy. Reps: A McBurney, T O'Hagan, T O'Toole, N Timoney, M Rea, J Stewart, J Owens, T Lyttle.

LEINSTER - J O'Brien; F McFadden, J Tomane, N Reid, D Kearney; R Byrne (capt), N McCarthy; J McGrath, B Byrne, M Bent; J Murphy, O Dowling; M Deegan, W Connors, C Doris. Reps: R Kelleher, P Dooley, V Abdaladze, R Baird, S Penny, P Patterson, C Frawley, B Daly.

Ref - G Clancy (IRFU)

  • Ulster v Leinster, live eir Sport, 5.15

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