Ulster aim to complete the double on Leinster in top-of-the-table clash

Win could potentially see McFarland’s side leapfrog Leinster into pole position

United Rugby Championship
Ulster v Leinster
Kingspan stadium, Saturday, 7.35pm (Live on TG4 and Premier Sports)

There's a prospect of celebrating several milestones in Belfast tonight, a couple relating to individuals, like centre Stuart McCloskey's 150th appearance for Ulster and Jordi Murphy's 50th when he is called from the bench.

But there is arguably one that will supersede those individual concerns and that relates to a change for Ulster to complete a season double over Leinster in the United Rugby Championship having already beaten the champions at the RDS.

Depending on how the match points are divvied up, there is also a possibility that Dan McFarland's side could leapfrog Leinster at the top of the table. Ulster's head coach is able to welcome back Michael Lowry, following his two-try debut for Ireland against Italy, and also Nick Timoney to the backrow, the flanker part of the extended national squad.


Last week's man-of-the-match Stewart Moore shifts from fullback to a more accustomed position of centre, alongside the hugely influential McCloskey. Robert Baloucoune is in prime form while Billy Burns and Neil Doak will relish getting a decent platform from the pack. Young hooker Tom Stewart is an excellent prospect on a bench that contains plenty of experience.


Leo Cullen makes several changes to a Leinster team that hammered a severely depleted Benetton in Italy last week. Adam Byrne takes over from the injured Jordan Larmour; Rory O'Loughlin comes into the centre with Jamie Osborne moving to 12, as Harry Byrne has missed out with a rib issue.

Last week's starting frontrow drops to the bench as Ed Byrne, James Tracy and Michael Ala'alatoa are promoted to the starting team. Leinster's head coach has opted for a 6-2 split on the bench with Nick McCarthy, David Hawkshaw and flanker Martin Moloney coming into the matchday 23.

Cullen said: “So we have to make sure we are better than we were when we played them in the RDS. It’s not going to be easy. They don’t play an awful lot in their own half but are very accurate in terms of their kicking game.

“They have a strong set piece; the lineout maul has been going particularly well for them. You can see they back themselves quite a bit by going for the corner, particularly when they are at home. When they get on the front foot they are a hard team to stop as you saw against Cardiff.”

ULSTER: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, S Moore, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; B Burns, N Doak; A Warwick, J Andrew, M Moore; A O'Connor (capt), S Carter; M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen. Replacements: T Stewart, E O'Sullivan, G Milasinovich, M Kearney, J Murphy, J Cooney, I Madigan, B Moxham.

LEINSTER: J O'Brien; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, J Osborne, T O'Brien; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); E Byrne, J Tracy, M Ala'alatoa; R Molony, J McCarthy; R Ruddock, S Penny, M Deegan. Replacements: S Cronin, P Dooley, T Clarkson; D Toner, D Leavy, N McCarthy, D Hawkshaw, M Moloney.

Referee: F Murphy (IRFU).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer