Belfast Telegraph

Leinster’s record this year leaves rivals in the shade

Ulster have not had a bad 2011, Heineken Cup quarter-finalists for the first time since 1999, Magners League semi-finalists and a decent start to their 2012 European campaign with three wins from four.

However, Ulster's 2011 slinks into the shadows as soon as you compare it to their Boxing Day derby opponents Leinster, who are lining up another Pro12 victory in their RDS lair.

Heineken Cup champions, Magners League runners-up and riding high in both competitions again heading into 2012, Leinster have had a wonderful 2011 — with a win ratio of 81pc telling you all you need to know.

Unlike Ulster, there was no over-dependence on overseas players, although Isa Nacewa and Nathan Hines played significant roles in Leinster's success and Heinke van der Merwe was a quality addition to their front-row.

The team selections for this encounter provide a window in the respective provinces.

Leinster have rested a raft of front-liners who featured in last weekend's romp against Bath, but Schmidt is still able to name a team containing 10 Ireland internationals led by captain Shane Jennings.

The on-fire Luke Fitzgerald switches to full-back to accommodate Fionn Carr, while Fergus McFadden moves to 13 to make way for Gordon D'Arcy at 12.

This aids McFadden's candidacy for Brian O'Driscoll's outside centre slot in the Six Nations, but he is the form inside centre in the country at present and you feel that is where his long-term future lies with Ireland.

Ian Madigan gets another chance to demonstrate the out-half talents that have become very apparent this season, while Leo Auva'a brings his power-running to the No 8 slot. Leinster's bench is also well stacked and features Jamie Hagan, although he has gone backwards since his ill-advised decision to leave Connacht.

Leinster have racked up 50 points twice in their last three matches and this has the potential to be another rollicking confirmation of their strength in depth.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph