Opportunity for young guns as Leinster and Ulster rest big names
McFarland’s side seeking to avenge recent Champions Cup defeat at the Aviva
Darren Cave: will captain Ulster against Leinster to mark his retirement from the game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Pro14: Ulster v Leinster
Kick-off: 5.15pm, Saturday. Venue: Ravenhill. On TV: Eir Sport and Premier Sports.
Both having secured their playoff destinies, this is something of a dead rubber, and the stakes are certainly in stark contrast to their Euro thriller in the Aviva four weeks ago when they virtually battered each other to a standstill.
Even so, this traditional end-of-season match-up in the Kingspan invariably has an edge, and with a big crowd expected (17,000 ticket have been sold) this is not without its interest and element of poignancy.
Michael Lowry and Darren Cave, who captains Ulster in his farewell campaign, along with Dave Kearney and Ross Byrne, who captains Leinster for the first time, are the only survivors from the starting line-ups the last day.
Indeed, Dan McFarland names a completely changed starting XV from the side which beat Edinburgh a fortnight ago, and Leo Cullen does likewise in resting the entire starting line-up from last week’s Euro semi-final win over Toulouse.
Ulster utility back David Busby, who suffered a long-term knee injury in pre-season, will make his first appearance of the season in a back three comprising entirely academy players.
Academy backrower Marcus Rea is in line to make his senior Ulster debut from the bench, and potentially alongside brother, Matty. In the process he would become Ulster’s 49th player this season.
Overlooked in the Euro knock-out stages, Jack McGrath has been recalled for his 144th and potentially last outing for Leinster at the ground where he will pitch up next season.
Having made three appearances off the bench, 21-year-old academy lock Oisín Dowling will make his first senior start alongside Josh Murphy in the second row. The uncapped 19-year-old lock, Ryan Baird, who made two appearances for Ireland Under-20s in their Six Nations Grand Slam, is one of four academy players on the Leinster bench, and could thus become the 57th player used by Cullen this season.
With ten academy players, six from Leinster, in the matchday squads for this academic fixture, so to speak, this is a test of their respective strength in depth, and in that regard the champions usually have no peers.
Ulster: M Lowry; D Busby, D Cave (capt), P Nelson, A Kernohan; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; A Warwick, J Andrew, R Kane; I Nagle, A O’Connor; M Rea, C Ross, S Reidy.
Replacements: A McBurney, T O’Hagan, T O’Toole, N Timoney, M Rea, J Stewart, J Owens, R Lyttle.
LEINSTERT: J O’Brien; F McFadden, J Tomane, N Reid, D Kearney; R Byrne (capt), N McCarthy; J McGrath, B Byrne, M Bent; J Murphy, O Dowling; M Deegan, W Connors, C Doris.
Replacements: R Kelleher, P Dooley, V Abdaladze, R Baird, S Penny, P Patterson, C Frawley, B Daly.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU).
Forecast: Leinster to win.