Timely returns strengthen provinces
Rugby team news:The return of a host of Ireland internationals has been reflected in the respective team selections of the provinces for this weekend’s RaboDirect Pro12 fixtures. League leaders Ulster have made nine changes ahead of their clash with the Scarlets.
Ulster are unbeaten in 11 and lead Scarlets by six at the top of the table, but after seeing his side narrowly maintain its winning streak with two away wins in Italy during the autumn internationals, coach Mark Anscombe will be relieved to able to freshen things up for a trip to the Scarlets on Sunday (4pm).
The returns of captain Johann Muller and hooker Rory Best from injury are a bonus, while Paddy Jackson, Luke Marshall, Darren Cave and Craig Gilroy all come straight back into the backline after impressing on the international stage this month.
Chris Henry, however, is rested along with Nick Williams, Springbok Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Wallace and Jared Payne.
Props Callum Black and John Afoa are promoted to the frontrow with South African-born hooker Rob Herring. Lock Neil McComb retains his place beside his Muller, and forwards Iain Henderson and Robbie Diack replace Williams and Mike McComish, with Roger Wilson retained at number eight.
Joe Schmidt welcomes six senior members back to fourth-placed Leinster’s starting XV.
Gordon D’Arcy, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton, Fergus McFadden and hooker Seán Cronin back from international duty, while prop Michael Bent will make his home debut against Zebre at the RDS on Saturday evening (6pm).
D’Arcy will move to outside centre to accommodate Andrew Goodman’s retention in midfield after two solid performances against Glasgow and Ospreys.
McFadden is named in an exciting back three alongside Andrew Conway and Isa Nacewa, while Ireland props Cian Healy and Mike Ross, as well as scrumhalf Isaac Boss, are among the replacements.
ULSTER (v Scarlets): P Nelson; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring, J Afoa, J Muller (c), N McComb, I Henderson, R Diack, R Wilson.
Replacements: R Best, T Court, R Lutton, D Tuohy, M McComish, M Heaney, N O'Connor, T Bowe
LEINSTER (v Zebre):I Nacewa; A Conway, G D’Arcy, A Goodman; F McFadden; J Sexton, E Reddan; H van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Bent; L Cullen (captain), D Browne; K McLaughlin, R Ruddock, S O’Brien
Replacements: A Dundon, C Healy, M Ross, T Denton, J Murphy, I Boss, I Madigan, F Carr