Leinster and Ulster vie for PRO12 title
May 24, 2013
Will Leinster add another trophy to their cabinet? © PA Photos
Ulster and Leinster go head-to-head for the RaboDirect PRO12 title at the RDS on Saturday in what promises to be an epic clash.
The two sides met in the final of the Heineken Cup last year with Leinster running out comfortable winners, but a lot has happened since then. Ulster have been the in-form side in the PRO12 this year and went 11 matches unbeaten in the league at the start of the campaign.
It was been a season driven by emotion for the men from Ravenhill following the tragic death of centre Nevin Spence back in September. The players now have his initials embroidered on their shirts and will want to end the season on a high in honour of their former team-mate.
On the field, Ulster have a team packed with Ireland internationals with that added drop of southern hemisphere brilliance from Ruan Pienaar, John Afoa and skipper Johann Muller. And you expect British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland will be an interested spectator with six members of his squad on show.
For Leinster, they have already secured the Amlin Challenge Cup title, thanks to a 34-13 win over Stade Francais last week and they will want to win the PRO12 title for their departing coach Joe Schmidt, who is off to coach Ireland. And they will also be bidding farewell to Fijian star Isa Nacewa, who will retire at the end of the season, and fly-half Jonathan Sexton who is off to Racing Metro.
Ulster - Player to Watch: Finals sometimes hinge on pivotal moments and calm heads are needed in these instances. Ulster will hope Ruan Pienaar is at his usual best and if he is playing on the front foot, then the rest of the team will reap the benefits.
Ulster - Team News: John Afoa will join Rory Best, and Tom Court in the front row, while Johann Muller, continues his partnership with Dan Tuohy in the second-row. Robbie Diack and Chris Henry start either side of the scrum with the RaboDirect PRO12 Players' Player of the Year, Nick Williams, selected at No.8. Ruan Pienaar starts at scrum-half, with Paddy Jackson named at fly-half. Stuart Olding partners Darren Cave in midfield with Tommy Bowe joining Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne in the back three.
Leinster - Player to Watch: Ian Madigan is one of the most exciting prospects in the northern hemisphere and he will want to prove to the Leinster faithful that there is life after Jonathan Sexton.
Leinster - Team News: Isa Nacewa starts in the backline alongside Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney. McFadden's positional switch caters for the return of Brian O'Driscoll who starts alongside Madigan at centre. Isaac Boss is named at half-back alongside will partner Sexton, in what will be his final appearance for the province prior to his switch to Racing Metro. Up front, Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss return to the starting line-up alongside Mike Ross while Leo Cullen skippers the side in the second-row. Sean O'Brien misses out due to injury so Kevin McLaughlin starts with Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip.
Key Battle: Heaslip will have a mammoth task on his hands trying to keep tabs on his opposite number Williams. Heaslip is starting to re-find some sparkling form while Williams has been consistently brilliant throughout this season - it should be a great fight.
Trivia: This is Leinster's fourth successive PRO12 final, but they are yet to actually win one.
Stats: Jonathan Sexton may be Leinster's front-line kicker on Saturday but Ian Madigan is the PRO12's top-scorer with 186 points.
Betting: Leinster are favourites for the match at 4/7 with bet365 while Ulster are priced at 11/8. We also quite fancy Leinster to get the first points of the match so back them at 6/4 to slot a penalty to get the scoreboard ticking over.
"Tragedy is never a good thing but it can be something that can spur us on. We have to make sure when we come off the pitch we can say we gave everything and played to the best of our ability. And I believe if we can do that we'll have won the game." - Ulster's Rory Best refers to Nevin Spence and the final
"They've gotten better. They brought in a couple of big performers. Nick Williams has been a revelation for them. Tommy (Bowe) coming back has just given them that extra dimension. Jared Payne at 15 has been phenomenal." - Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll on the threat of Ulster
Prediction: Ulster will take the spoils with a narrow victory over Leinster
Paddy Jackson will hope to inspire Ulster to victory © PA Photos
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