Dan McFarland makes wholesale changes to the starting team ahead of Ulster’s final game of the regular season against Leinster tomorrow.

Darren Cave is named as captain in what appears to be his last start for Ulster at the Kingspan. On the other side of the scale, Marcus Rea will make his debut if he comes off the bench tomorrow. There’s also a welcome back for Jack Owens and David Busby. The latter starts on the wing and will make his first appearance since the final game of last season while Owens will make his second appearance for the province after debuting in the 2016-17 season.

John Andrew makes just his second start of the season in the front row alongside Andy Warwick and Ross Kane. The latter came on in the away win over Edinburgh to replace the injured Marty Moore and did a sterling job against the formidable Pierre Schoeman. Ian Nagle starts against his parent club alongside Alan O’Connor in the second row. Matty Rea, Clive Ross and Sean Reidy form a hard working back row.

Dave Shanahan will make his 20th appearance of the season and is joined by Johnny McPhillips in the half back pairing. Darren Cave provides experience to the back line from 13 channel and he is joined by Pete Nelson at 12. With James Hume injured and McFarland saving Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall for next week, options were thin on the ground for the inside centre position. Michael Lowry returns to fullback and is joined in the back three by Angus Kernohan and David Busby.

Leinster have also named a rotated squad after booking their place in Newcastle with a convincing win over Toulouse in the Champions Cup semi final on Sunday. To the shock of no one, Leinster’s second string seems a lot stronger than Ulster’s on paper. Ulster-bound Jack McGrath starts at loosehead. Caelan Doris, Max Deegan, Will Connors and Jimmy O’Brien represent the strength that Leinster have down the pecking order.

It’s not often that a match between Ulster and Leinster is a dead rubber but don’t expect a drop in intensity. Ulster have lost their last four matches against their neighbours with the last win coming in May 2017. Still, this match represents as a tick-box exercise for Ulster, with a lot more emphasis being placed on next week’s quarter final against Connach evidenced by the promotional video on YouTube.

As both sides are fielding experimental sides, it is tough to judge where this match will be won and lost. Leinster’s back line has a lot of experience and the inclusion of Ross Byrne has the potential to pay dividends if the former St Michael’s player is allowed to pull the strings. Their back row is a major strength for me and it contains three young players that are a menace in the loose. Doris, Deegan and Connors have all excelled at U20 level for both Ireland and Leinster

With two rotated sides and not a lot to play for, I think we could see a lot of expansive rugby tomorrow coupled with a lot of handling errors. There’s rain forecast for tomorrow evening which will not be conducive to running rugby, but here’s hoping Ulster put on a show for the Kingspan faithful.

The FRU predicts: It would be nice to end our losing run against Leinster but I think Dan McFarland has taken the correct approach to this match. I don’t see an Ulster win, but thankfully that will not impact Ulster’s chances next week against Connacht.

Ulster Leinster
Michael Lowry 15 Jimmy O’Brien
David Busby 14 Fergus McFadden
Darren Cave 13 Joe Tomane
Peter Nelson 12 Noel Reid
Angus Kernohan 11 Dave Kearney
Johnny McPhillips 10 Ross Byrne
Dave Shanahan 9 Nick McCarthy
Andy Warwick 1 Jack McGrath
John Andrew 2 Bryan Byrne
Ross Kane 3 Michael Bent
Ian Nagle 4 Oisin Dowling
Alan O’Connor 5 Josh Murphy
Matty Rea 6 Max Deegan
Clive Ross 7 Will Connors
Sean Reidy 8 Caelan Doris
Adam McBurney 16 Ronan Kelleher
Tommy O’Hagan 17 Peter Dooley
Tom O’Toole 18 Vakh Abdaladze
Nick Timoney 19 Ryan Baird
Marcus Rea 20 Scott Penny
Jonny Stewart 21 Paddy Patterson
Jack Owens 22 Ciaran Frawley
Rob Lyttle 23 Barry Daly

#SUFTUM