Belfast Telegraph

Seven changes, but opponents still look strong

By David Kelly

Joe Schmidt was asked this week to describe the difficulty of competing on two fronts.

“Carnage,” the Leinster coach smiled through gritted teeth.

Still, he's been luckier than most. Seven changes here and Leinster still look formidable as they hungrily hunt down a second knock-out semi-final berth; it's not quite win or bust but Schmidt would require unwitting favours elsewhere should they slip up.

“Yes, that's the same attitude from the players' point of view,” confirms Sean O'Brien (pictured). “It's a knock-out game, the business end of the season and where we want to be. Every game is a must win and it would give us the best chance of getting a home semi-final.”

Despite the notable absence of his preferred midfield, neither Brian O'Driscoll nor Gordon D'Arcy are thought to be in any long-term jeopardy.

That is also the case with O'Brien, much to the relief of the several Ulster men upon which he trampled gleefully in Ravenhill earlier this season; albeit, he may make the replacements bench.

Isa Nacewa would probably refuse any invitation to pave way for a stand-in so he remains in situ — mercifully for those in his thrall — but most welcome is the return to full fitness of Shane Jennings, whose role could be pivotal in his side's exhaustive twin-title bid.

Heinke van der Merwe and Stan Wright take their places in the front row with Devin Toner starting at second row alongside skipper Leo Cullen.

Isaac Boss will make his 25th appearance of the season and his 100th league appearance in all (spanning his Ulster and Leinster careers) with Jonathan Sexton outside.

Eoin O'Malley lines up at centre alongside Fergus McFadden, with Leinster's top try-scorer in the Magners League Shane Horgan (five tries in 13 league games) continuing in the back three alongside Luke Fitzgerald — desperately seeking Zen-like re-assurance — and Nacewa.

Ulster's League run-in is trickier than Leinster's and, coupled with a one-day-less turnaround following starkly different European emotions, the side will be eager to demonstrate that a pall does not shadow their attempts to book a money-spinning home semi-final.

Brian McLaughlin has been forced to make two changes. Second row Johann Muller and wing Simon Danielli sustained injuries in the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Northampton, so Tim Barker and Craig Gilroy are promoted from the bench as direct replacements.

Muller received a dead leg and Danielli picked up a shoulder injury so McLaughlin chose not to risk them. Neil McComb and Conor Gaston replace Barker and Gilroy on the bench.

Belfast Telegraph

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