Pro14 Final: Prediction and Teams
LEINSTER V ULSTER: Star flyhalf Jonathan Sexton has been benched for Saturday’s Pro14 Final between Leinster and Ulster in Dublin.
Sexton’s move to the bench is one of several changes from the Leinster team that accounted for Munster in the semifinal with Garry Ringrose named as captain of the senior side for the first time.
The halfback partnership sees Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne start at No.9 and No.10.
The back three is the same that started against Munster last week with Jordan Larmour selected at fullback having come through the graduated return to play protocols successfully this week and Hugo Keenan on the right wing and James Lowe on the left.
Robbie Henshaw is again selected at inside centre with captain Ringrose outside him in the No.13 jersey.
Ringrose made his Leinster debut in September 2015 on the wing against Cardiff Blues and tomorrow’s Pro14 Final will be his 75th appearance in a Leinster jersey. In that time he has scored 25 tries and has 29 Ireland caps to his name.
In the pack, there is no change in the front row with Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher and Andrew Porter again selected. In winning his 219th cap, Cian Healy joins Leo Cullen and Rob Kearney as the joint 4th most capped player in Leinster history.
James Ryan has recovered from injury to take his place in the second row alongside Devin Toner.
Finally in the back row, Player of the Match from last week Caelan Doris is again selected at blindside flank with Josh van der Flier at openside and finally Jack Conan is selected in the No.8 jersey.
Meanwhile, Ulster will be boosted by the return of club captain, Iain Henderson, who will be making his first appearance since the season resumption, and is one of four changes to the side that defeated Edinburgh in last week’s thrilling semifinal at Murrayfield.
Alan O’Connor will partner Henderson in the second row, while the front row of Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Tom O’Toole is retained. The back-row sees one change, with Sean Reidy coming into the starting line-up at openside flank. Matthew Rea takes the blindside flanker position and Marcell Coetzee packs down at No.8.
The back three sees two positional switches, with Jacob Stockdale moving to the left wing, while Rob Lyttle swaps over to the right. Joining them at fullback is Michael Lowry, returning to the starting XV. Stuart McCloskey – who, along with John Cooney, was named in the Pro14 Dream Team earlier this week – continues his midfield partnership with James Hume. All Black scrumhalf, Alby Mathewson, will make his first start for Ulster alongside Billy Burns at flyhalf.
McFarland has opted for a six-two split on the bench where John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Marty Moore, Sam Carter, Jordi Murphy and Nick Timoney will offer the forward backup, and the backline cover is provided by John Cooney and Ian Madigan.
Pienaar: ‘A final is anyone’s game’
Former Ulsterman Ruan Pienaar, who represented the club 141 times, believes it is a “massive” achievement for the team to make this weekend’s Pro14 Final against defending champions Leinster in Dublin.
Pienaar, who scored all Ulster’s points in their 2014 final loss to Leinster, believes that the team has a chance, even though everyone is writing them off against the unbeaten Dublin side.
Pienaar believes that Ulster will need to be at their best, but the bounce of the ball could aid them in a final where the pressure will be on.
“Ulster last won the competition in 2006, and we were in the final in 2014 where we lost against Leinster. For a small place like Belfast it is a massive achievement,” he said.
“The club has a great tradition and is always in the semifinals and they will know what they have to do. Facing a team like Leinster isn’t easy because they have won so much and have been in these situations for so many times and know how to react.
“But a final is anyone’s game. It takes one wrong bounce and it can go any way. I’m excited to watch the game and really hope Ulster can give Leinster a real go this weekend.”
Prediction: Leinster are clear favourites for this game. Ulster will put up a fight, but Leinster will take it by five points.
Leinster: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Garry Ringrose (captain), 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Ross Byrne, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Will Connors, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Rory O’Loughlin.
Ulster: 15 Michael Lowry, 14 Rob Lyttle, 13 James Hume, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Matthew Rea, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Tom O’Toole, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Eric O’Sullivan.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Sam Carter, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Nick Timoney.
Date: Saturday, September 12
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 19:35 (18:35 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy, George Clancy
TMO: Brian MacNeice