Jonny Stewart is set to make his first Ulster start as he is named at scrum half for the clash with Leinster at the RDS tomorrow evening.

Rory Best returns to captain his native province from hooker and will make his first appearance since the away fixture against the Dragons. Callum Black replaces Kyle McCall at loose head prop while Rodney Ah You keeps his tight head jersey and the big man has a lot to prove in this one. Pete Browne makes his first appearance since the loss against Zebre in October and is partnered by Iain Henderson. Sean Reidy returns to the back row alongside Matthew Rea and Jean Deysel.

Jonny Stewart replaces John Cooney at scrum half, with Christian Lealiifano starting at ten after his bruising encounter against Munster. It would be no surprise to see Cooney coming on for a run out at out half later in the game. Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave impressed in the centre on Monday and retain their places. Charles Piutau has a monopoly over the 15 jersey and is joined by Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Trimble on the wings.

Deysel and Ah You are the only forwards to keep their positions and face a much stronger Leinster pack. Jordi Murphy, who joins Ulster at the end of the season, starts on the openside while a second row partnership of Devin Toner and Scott Fardy will prove problematic for a struggling Ulster lineout, with the former proving a nuisance in the fixture in October. Ulster can’t make a similar start to the match as they did against Munster or else they could be on the wrong end of another hammering.

Welcoming back Best, Henderson and Reidy will give pack a confidence boost. Leinster’s back row features the aforementioned Jordi Murphy as well as the abrasive ball carrier, Jack Conan. Particularly in the first half on Monday, Ulster’s back row afforded Chris Cloete enough time to lock down on the ball and win his side a penalty. We need to see the same aggressiveness around the breakdown for 80 minutes tomorrow as we saw in the second half against Monday if Ulster are to leave the RDS with anything.

As it stands in Conference B, Ulster sit six points behind tomorrow’s opposition and eight behind Scarlets in first place. Looking just over our shoulder, Edinburgh are eight points behind Ulster but host Southern Kings this weekend where they are expected to pick up the maximum total. Leinster still have to host the Scarlets and while the Welsh side’s run in is difficult, so is Ulster’s. A top two finish is not out of the question but a defeat for Ulster tomorrow would all but secure a shootout between Scarlets and Leinster for the Conference winner.

Ross Byrne is just another quality player that the Leinster academy has churned out. His impressive performances this season has seen Joey Carbery being played at full back, when he was fit, it gives Leinster an excellent back up to Johnny Sexton. With Jordan Larmour starting at fullback, loose kicking is not an option for Ulster. The Munster pack was their strength against Ulster on New Year’s Day, but this Leinster side oozes quality all round the park.

The FRU predicts: One win in Dublin since 1999 speaks volumes about Ulster’s form against Leinster. The home side have named a strong team and should run out comfortable winners. 🙁

LEINSTER   ULSTER
Jordan Larmour 15 Charles Piutau
Fergus McFadden 14 Andrew Trimble
Garry Ringrose 13 Darren Cave
Robbie Henshaw 12 Stuart McCloskey
Barry Daly 11 Jacob Stockdale
Ross Byrne 10 Christian Lealiifano
Jamison Gibson-Park 9 Jonny Stewart
Jack McGrath © 1 Callum Black
James Tracy 2 Rory Best ©
Tadhg Furlong 3 Rodney Ah You
Devin Toner 4 Pete Browne
Scott Fardy 5 Iain Henderson
Josh Murphy 6 Matthew Rea
Jordi Murphy 7 Sean Reidy
Jack Conan 8 Jean Deysel
Seán Cronin 16 Rob Herring
Ed Byrne 17 Kyle McCall
Andrew Porter 18 Wiehahan Herbst
Mick Kearney 19 Alan O’Connor
Max Deegan 20 Nick Timoney
Nick McCarthy 21 John Cooney
Johnny Sexton 22 Johnny McPhillips
Noel Reid 23 Tommy Bowe

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