Ulster v Leinster, Aviva stadium, Saturday, 7.35 – Live on Eir Sport, deferred coverage TG4
Jacob Stockdale, one of seven players retained by Ulster coach Dan McFarland, is grateful for an opportunity to expunge last week's disappointing defeat to Connacht.
Selected at fullback for the second game in succession, a position in which he excelled with the Ireland team that reached the Under-20 World Cup final in 2016, he may occasionally collide with his Leinster counterpart, Rob Kearney, a player whom Stockdale explained was crucial to him settling into the Ireland team.
“The experience I’ve gained on the wing has definitely helped me to play at fullback because I know what my wingers want from me if that makes sense. A large part of that was definitely playing with Kearns, playing for Ireland and just realising what he did and the communication which made my life easier and a lot more comfortable.”
It’s a position that Stockdale enjoys playing, primarily because of the greater involvement in a game when compared to wing, and also on the principle that it will make him a better player. “I’m a strong believer [that] versatility creates a better player because you understand what the players around you want whenever you’re playing in that position.
“You look at someone like Will Addison who can drop into 13, drop into fullback and play on the wing. That’s made Will a well-rounded player who understands the game really well .From that point of view, I’m definitely keen to play a bit of fullback this year.”
McFarland had made five changes to a pack, including making Wallaby international Sam Carter captain. Rob Lyttle and Matt Faddes will hope to provide a cutting edge on the wings, while Ian Madigan makes his first start for Ulster against his former team-mates.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has changed his entire starting team from last weekend's win over Munster, handing the captaincy for the first time to loosehead prop Ed Byrne.
Cullen explained: “Ed is a brilliant character for us, very important in the group, very well respected. Any time we would do votes for leaders he would feature very, very strongly. I know it means a huge amount to him as well.”
Cullen has changed the entire starting team on the basis that “we wanted to get through these couple of rounds [using] a big chunk of players,” because from next week on and providing they can keep winning Leinster will play a series of knockout matches in both the Pro14 and the Champions Cup, reducing the scope to make wholesale changes.
Kearney, who accepted a short-term contract until the end of the season, will be keen to persuade his coach that he should have a role in the weeks ahead and his aspirations will be shared by several of the run-on team on Saturday night.
Rhys Ruddock returns to the matchday 23 following a niggling injury and he'll be keen to get as much game time as possible. Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam winner Tom Clarkson is set to make his debut from the bench.
The Ulster team is slightly more experienced, slightly closer to a first choice side than their opponents and shouldn’t be lacking in intensity this week, all of which could give them an edge. But a hallmark of Leinster’s season to date has been finding a way to win, irrespective of personnel and that’s a priceless characteristic.
ULSTER: J Stockdale; M Faddes, J Hume, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; I Madigan, J Cooney; E O'Sullivan, R Herring, T O'Toole; S Carter (capt), K Treadwell; M Rea, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: J Andrew, K McCall, M Moore, A O'Connor, N Timoney, D Shanahan, B Johnston, L Ludik.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; H Keenan, R O'Loughlin, C Frawley, C Kelleher; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne (capt), S Cronin, M Bent; D Toner, R Molony; J Murphy, W Connors, M Deegan.
Replacements: J Tracy, M Milne, T Clarkson, R Ruddock, S Penny, R Osborne, H Byrne, J O'Brien.
Referee: G Clancy (Munster).