Belfast Telegraph

Leinster v Ulster PRO12 semi-final: Jamie Heaslip wary of quality available to Les Kiss as Leinster face injury headache

By Jonathan Bradley

While Ulster's injury situation is seemingly cut and dried just three days out from the PRO12 semi-final, the picture is more cloudy for opponents Leinster.

Prop Wiehahn Herbst is set to be the only addition to the Ulster panel that booked a place in the last-four with victory over the Ospreys a fortnight ago, but Leo Cullen's planning has been more disrupted.

Out-half Jonathan Sexton will be fit, and in the words of defence coach Kurt McQuilkin, has "been flying around" their UCD training base, despite coming off against Treviso last time out.

But while Rob Kearney, another who was withdrawn against the Italians, is said to be making good progress he, along with Luke Fitzgerald, looks set to be left watching from the sidelines at a sold-out RDS where capacity has been boosted to 19,100.

Openside Josh van der Flier's season is already over while the destructive Sean O'Brien also looks certain to miss out on the rest of the campaign as well as Ireland's tour to South Africa.

Deprived of two of his most talented back-rowers, Cullen may, however, be able to call upon Jack Conan after the one-time-capped No.8 came through 40 minutes against Ireland Under-20s.

After Ulster's 30-6 win against the Dubliners at the Kingspan last month, the idea that Les Kiss' backs will again pose serious threat only if their pack can achieve something close to parity has become commonplace but Jamie Heaslip isn't underestimating the visiting forward unit.

"Not big names?" asked Ireland's vice-captain when it was put to him that Ulster's pack lacked star quality. "They have the Irish captain (Rory Best) and Iain Henderson, two pretty big names that jump straight out.

"The main thing they do is deliver good quality ball. Ruan (Pienaar) is one of the best in the game in directing the show, and making the right decision nine times out of 10.

"Paddy (Jackson) is playing some really good rugby and they're getting good go-forward ball. If they hit up Stu (McCloskey), they just know what they're at.

"Their collective strength is very impressive. They just know the way they want to play, they know their patterns, their moves, everything inside out.

"I think regardless of who plays for them, that standard doesn't drop. You've seen that in how many tries they scored and how many they let in."

McQuilkin is not unduly concerned by how Kiss' side performed against his defence in the most recent meeting between the pair, saying he was more aggravated by the scores eked out by Treviso a week later.

"I didn't take that as badly as Treviso," said the New Zealander. "At Ulster, there was a penalty try, an intercept which is hard to defend, and their second try Luke Fitzgerald was in the bin.

"The Treviso game we mentally knocked off. We've had discussions about that since then."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph