Leinster will get one foot in the door of the Guinness PRO14 final on March 27 if they can topple Ulster in the Kingspan on Saturday night.
Buoyed by the news of a new contract for Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy, the Dublin bases side know it is up to Ulster to bring the fight to them. Ulster’s lack of bonus points will cost them if they aren’t able to put in a stellar performance against the champions.
Ireland internationals Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier, having been released back to the province, will start at blindside and openside, with the in-form Scott Penny starting at No.8. They are joined by Test veterans Devin Toner, Scott Fardy and Luke McGrath.
Ulster have named the slightly more seasoned side, with the likes of Jacob Stockdale, Stuart McCloskey, Ian Madigan, John Cooney, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee all set to start the potentially season-defining fixture.
Ulster prop Andy Warwick said this week his side need to up their performance if they are to give themselves a chance of making the final.
“They are good teams (Glasgow and Ospreys) but yeah, the position we were in there we probably didn’t perform too well, especially in the first half and then against Ospreys,” said Warwick.
“We needed to be scoring more points in the first half and we were putting ourselves under pressure near the end of the game to force it, but if we want to get to the next level we have to be taking those opportunities and getting those bonus points.”
Ulster need to do more than just beat Leinster on Saturday, but at least they will give themselves a chance of sneaking into the final if they do.
“There’s no looking past it, Leinster are the one of the top teams in Europe and for us to get to that next level we have to beat them and we’ll maybe not have a better opportunity than this week.
“If we’re going to prove to others outside this group that we’re good enough we have to beat Leinster.
“You obviously have to respect how good Leinster have been over the past few years and this season we played them over Christmas and they beat us well down there, and I suppose you just have to block out that noise and just focus on what you can do individually in your role for the team.
“We’re confident of going out and giving a good performance and look this will always be a hard task against Leinster,” he added.
Ulster: Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy (Capt.), Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: Adam McBurney, Andrew Warwick, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Sean Reidy, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle.
Leinster: Max O’Reilly, Cian Kelleher, Jimmy O’Brien, Rory O’Loughlin, Dave Kearney, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (CAPT), Ed Byrne, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Scott Penny.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Peter Dooley, Thomas Clarkson, Ross Molony, Josh Murphy, Rowan Osborne, Jamie Osborne, Jack Dunne.
Reporting by the PRO14
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