A youthful Ulster side will travel down to D4 to take on Leinster in the final interpro match until the end of the season.
Rob Lyttle returns from an 11 month lay off while Ballymena’s Bruce Houston and Banbridge’s Caleb Montgomery will make their Ulster senior debuts if they appear off the bench.
Angus Kernohan and Johnny McPhillips are the only players to retain last week’s jerseys while Darren Cave moves to outside centre and Nick Timoney moves to eight.
Kyle McCall, Adam McBurney and Wiehahn Herbst form a new front row. McCall makes his first start of the season while it’s Herbst’s first appearance in an Ulster shirt since the match against the Cheetahs at the end of September. Matthew Dalton also makes his first appearance of the season and is partnered in the second row by the returning Alan O’Connor who captains the side. Greg Jones makes his first start since January in the back row alongside the more familiar Sean Reidy and Nick Timoney.
Johnny McPhillips continues as Ulster’s out half but is partnered by Dave Shanahan at scrum half. James Hume comes in for Will Addison with Darren Cave moving into the outside centre channel. At just 21 years of age Rob Lyttle is the oldest of Ulster’s back three with Michael Lowry, 20, returning to fullback after injury and Angus Kernohan, 19, resuming as Ulster’s left wing option.
For a sense of how young this side is, Darren Cave and Wiehahn Herbst are the only players over 30 to feature in the starting line up and seven of the players are under the age of 23. Cave and Herbst bring the average age of the squad up to 23.7 but Ulster will also look to Shanahan, McPhillips, McCall, Reidy, O’Connor and Timoney to bring match day experience to the side.
I think Ulster are in for a difficult evening tomorrow. While Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter and Rob Kearney are the only regular Irish internationals in Leinster’s side, the depth at their disposal is scary, particularly when you consider that Ireland’s stand out player during the most recent U20 World Championship, Caelan Doris, only makes the bench. They’ve still named a useful side – watch out for Scott Penny and Conor O’Brien – so I don’t see Ulster getting anything from the match.
Ulster’s front row is up against it facing an all-international trio but this represents an excellent chance to test themselves against the best. Ulster’s lineout has been inconsistent to say the least so we need to see Alan O’Connor take control of this particular facet of the game if we’re to get anything from the match.
Nevertheless, I’m half expecting this Ulster side to give it a go from the off. Lyttle, Lowry, Kernohan, Hume and McPhillips have shown that they like to throw the ball about and are great on the counter attack. With Ulster’s recent record in Dublin and Leinster’s position at the top of the table, there’s not a lot stake – bar interprovincial bragging rights – and it definitely won’t be the defining match of Ulster’s season.
The FRU predicts: In terms of strength in squad depth I’d say Saracens are the only European side to come close to Leinster at the minute – if they’d kept their heads in the first half last week, Munster were definitely there for the taking. Unfortunately I see only one result tomorrow and that’s a blue win. What will be key however, is the attitudes of the Ulster players regardless of whatever score it is.
However, every so often Ulster pull off a memorable performance and gain a result when, on paper, they shouldn’t. Let’s hope tomorrow is one of those evenings.
|Rob Kearney||15||Michael Lowry|
|Adam Byrne||14||Rob Lyttle|
|Conor O’Brien||13||Darren Cave|
|Noel Reid||12||James Hume|
|Barry Daly||11||Angus Kernohan|
|Ciarán Frawley||10||Johnny McPhillips|
|Jamison Gibson-Park||9||David Shanahan|
|Jack McGrath||1||Kyle McCall|
|Seán Cronin||2||Adam McBurney|
|Andrew Porter||3||Wiehahn Herbst|
|Ross Molony||4||Matthew Dalton|
|Mick Kearney||5||Alan O’Connor|
|Josh Murphy||6||Greg Jones|
|Scott Penny||7||Sean Reidy|
|Max Deegan||8||Nick Timoney|
|James Tracy||16||John Andrew|
|Ed Byrne||17||Andrew Warwick|
|Michael Bent||18||Tom O’Toole|
|Oisín Dowling||19||Caleb Montgomery|
|Caelan Doris||20||Clive Ross|
|Hugh O’Sullivan||21||Johnny Stewart|
|Ross Byrne||22||Bruce Houston|
|Jimmy O’Brien||23||Peter Nelson|