Leinster To Get Pro12 Campaign Back On Track
With both sides inconsistent in this year’s Pro12, Leinster face Ulster on Saturday at the RDS Arena hoping to get their campaign back on track.
Leinster v Ulster, Saturday 2:40, RDS Arena
Leinster lost three of their first five Pro12 fixtures and are currently fifth in the table, three points behind Saturday’s opponents Ulster. There has been some slow improvement, including a victory over the current league leaders, Ospreys, but the defending champions remain vulnerable and in their last outing, they were comfortably beaten for the second time this season by arch-rivals Munster.
Ulster’s Pro 12 form has been equally patchy. They endured a slow start, losing two of their opening games, including a shock defeat against Zebre, then put together a run of four wins, which took them to the top of the table, before defeats against Munster and Ospreys stalled their momentum. They go into this game in fourth place, having won just two of their last five matches in all competitions.
Leinster’s campaign has been badly hampered by a string of injuries but coach Matt O’Connor at last has some good news to celebrate. First choice centres Fergus McFadden and Ben Te’o – the man signed to replace Brian O’Driscoll – are both fit for this game, and O’Connor will also be able to call on the services of internationals Sean Cronin, Rob Kearney, Mike Ross and Devin Toner.
Ulster coach Neil Doak was forced to employ young hooker John Andrew as an emergency flanker against Connacht and the province’s back-row injury problem has worsened with Roger Wilson joining the likes of Chris Henry and Nick Williams on the sidelines. Scrum-half Ruan Pienaar is also still missing, but internationals Rory Best and Tommy Bowe have both been cleared to play against Leinster.
Head to Head
Leinster and Ulster have enjoyed some famous clashes over the years, most notably their meeting in the Heineken Cup final of 2012. Leinster won on that occasion and they have held the upper hand over their provincial rivals in recent seasons, winning ten of their last twelve encounters, including three in the Pro12 play-offs.
Ulster made a strong start to their latest match in last season’s play-off semi-final, earning a 9-0 lead in the second half, but were worn down by a Leinster side who clinched the match with an Ian Madigan try eight minutes from time.
After a comprehensive defeat at Thomond Park, in which his side were outplayed in all departments, coach Matt O’Connor is under pressure, but although the performance in Limerick was poor, Leinster still have the talent to mount a serious defence of their Pro12 title, particularly now that their injured players are returning.
In the short term, the return of McFadden and Te’o along with their international contingent should give them a boost and after being criticised for a perceived lack of intensity against Munster, they should be eager to get stuck in against an Ulster side that is desperately weak in the back-row. Back Leinster -7 at 6/5 in the Match Handicap market.