Robert Baloucoune returns as Ulster host Leinster

Dan McFarland’s side need a victory to keep their hopes of a Pro14 final place realistic

Pro14: Ulster v Leinster, Saturday March 6th, Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm, eir Sport).

Ulster welcome Leinster to the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night for a top of the table clash, with the hosts needing a victory to realistically keep their hopes of a place in the Pro14 final alive.

And Dan McFarland has been able to welcome Robert Baloucoune back into the fold, with the flying winger slotting into a backline packed with homegrown talent.

23-year-old Baloucoune joins fullback Michael Lowry and Jacob Stockdale in an exciting back three, with James Hume and Stuart McCloskey providing the muscle in midfield.

John Cooney, who has found himself out of favour in Andy Farrell’s Ireland set-up, starts at scrumhalf with Ian Madigan at outhalf.

Eric O’Sullivan and Tom O’Toole return at prop either side of John Andrew, with Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell in the engineroom. Jordi Murphy captains Ulster against his former side with Nick Timoney and number eight Marcell Coetzee completing the backrow.

As for the visitors, they are boosted upfront by the return of Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock, who were both released from Ireland duties, and they form the backrow along with number eight Scott Penny.

Scott Fardy and Devin Toner resume their secondrow partnership, with Ed Byrne, James Tracy and Michael Bent in the frontrow.

Luke McGrath will captain Leinster from scrumhalf, with Ross Byrne pulling the strings at outhalf. Rory O’Loughlin and Jimmy O’Brien start in midfield.

Dave Kearney brings some experience to the back three as he lines out on the wing, with Cian Kelleher on the opposite flank and Max O’Reilly at 15.

Both sides head into Saturday’s fixture having only lost once in the Pro14 this season - Leinster ran out 24-12 winners in this fixture on January 8th.

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.

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).