Dublin: 14°C Saturday 19 June 2021

Leinster roll out the stars for visit of Ulster but all eyes will be on returning Doris

The dynamic back row forward returns to action tonight following a lengthy lay-off.

Caelan Doris is back in the Leinster team.
Caelan Doris is back in the Leinster team.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

YOU GET THE sense the Rainbow Cup has become something of a chore for Ulster. It’s been just two weeks since they threw away a strong half-time lead in their Challenge Cup semi-final tie at Leicester Tigers, and they haven’t hidden from the fact that result is still haunting them.

A thrown-together, one-off tournament is not the most exciting prospect on the back of such a crushing European exit.

Their defeat to Munster last time out was about as bad as it has been for Dan McFarland’s side. They were sluggish, sloppy and ill-disciplined against a Munster team who sensed weakness, went for the throat and encountered little resistance.

McFarland did not like what he saw. The Ulster boss made five changes at half-time in Thomond Park, and has retained only three of last week’s starting XV – Jacob Stockdale, Stuart McCloskey and Iain Henderson – for tonight’s encounter against Leinster at the RDS [KO 8.15pm, eir Sport].

They travel to Dublin aiming to avoid falling to four successive defeats in all competitions for the first time in over four years.

Having lost their opening two Rainbow Cup two games Ulster don’t have much to play for across the remainder of the competition, but the least McFarland will hope for is to see more fight from his side. No matter the setting or circumstances, no head coach wants to head into the summer on the back of a series of losses.

stuart-mccloskey Stuart McCloskey is one of only three players retained in the Ulster starting 15. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Still, Ulster will continue to use the competition to test different combinations, although there are individuals in the squad with plenty to play for. The likes of Robert Baloucoune, Tom O’Toole and Eric O’Sullivan will have Ireland’s July Tests against the USA and Japan on their mind. 

However tonight’s game looks a daunting task against a Leinster team who ruthlessly stuck eight tries on Connacht last week and take to the pitch with 13 Ireland international in their starting XV.

Ulster will need a big performance to tame a powerful, dynamic looking Leinster pack, while Billy Burns and Dave Shanahan – who starts his first game of the 2020/21 season – will also need to make their own mark on proceedings. No pressure. 

Leo Cullen’s side have quickly made it clear that they are in this competition to win it. They had an eye on Europe when losing to Munster on the opening weekend, but the team selections for last week’s trip to the Sportsground and tonight’s clash show a serious level of intent.

Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Furlong, both named in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad last week, both start, as does James Ryan, one of more notable omissions from that touring party.

Yet all eyes will be on Caelan Doris, who makes a welcome return following a lengthy spell out of the game.

The back row looked destined to become a Lion this summer before concussion issues stalled his progress. He hasn’t played since 23 January. It will have felt like a lifetime for a young player with the world at his feet.

Ireland and Leinster have both shown extreme care and caution in handling his return to action, and the hope is that he settles back in smoothly over the next few weeks.

Doris – who pulled out of the team that lost to Munster on 24 April with a calf problem – is an explosive talent who brings plenty to the table on both sides of the ball. His smart footwork and handling ability marks him out as a threat with ball in hand, while he also serves as a valuable weapon at the breakdown.

Leinster also welcome back Jimmy O’Brien, who makes his first appearance in two months after overcoming a hamstring problem. The versatile back has grown into an important member of the Leinster squad, featuring 14 times this season before being laid up, and will be keen to make up for lost time.

Ulster have won just once (2013) on their last 18 visits to the RDS. They could be in for another long night.

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Leinster: Jimmy O’Brien; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (captain); Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Tadhg Furlong; Ryan Baird, James Ryan; Josh Murphy, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Michael Milne, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Jack Conan, Cormac Foley, Rory O’Loughlin, Tommy O’Brien.

Ulster: Jacob Stockdale; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Billy Burns, David Shanahan; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore; Sam Carter, Iain Henderson (captain); Matty Rea, Sean Reidy, Nick Timoney.

Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Greg Jones, Nathan Doak, Ian Madigan, Rob Lyttle.

Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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