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McFarland thrilled for Busby as he overhauls starting line-up


Big return: David Busby is back after injuring his ACL nearly a year ago

Big return: David Busby is back after injuring his ACL nearly a year ago

Big return: David Busby is back after injuring his ACL nearly a year ago

With the two sides locked into their current Conference B spots, a near sold-out Kingspan Stadium always seemed likely to be treated to a second-string inter-pro when Ulster and Leinster do battle this evening (5.15pm kick-off) and confirmation came yesterday when the teams were revealed.

Ulster haven't taken the field since beating Edinburgh in Murrayfield two weeks ago, while Leinster beat Toulouse in the Champions Cup semi-finals on Easter Sunday, but both Dan McFarland and Leo Cullen have made 15 changes to their starting sides from last time out.

As expected, Darren Cave will captain the home side in what could yet prove to be a Kingspan Stadium farewell for the long-serving centre who will retire at the end of the season.

His 227th appearance will move him to within two of Andrew Trimble's all-time Ulster record and it will be an unfamiliar midfield partner with the versatile Pete Nelson moving into 12. More often seen in the back-three this season, those spots will be taken by Mike Lowry, Angus Kernohan and David Busby, the latter making his first appearance since injuring his ACL almost a year ago.

McFarland said: "He has worked so hard to come back.

"He has played for Ballynahinch and I watched that game and he had a fantastic game for them.

"It will be really special for him to be able to play against Leinster at Kingspan Stadium."

Rounding out the backline are Dave Shanahan and Johnny McPhillips, who are taking the place of usual half-backs John Cooney and Billy Burns.

Academy flanker Marcus Rea is named on the bench and could become the latest youngster to make his debut under McFarland, potentially becoming part of the latest pair of Ulster Rugby brothers with Mattie Rea getting the nod at blindside flanker in a back-row that also contains Sean Reidy and Clive Ross.

Having been given dispensation by his parent club Leinster to take the field, Ian Nagle will start alongside Alan O'Connor in the engine room looking to support a front-row that will see Andy Warwick, John Andrew and Ross Kane team up. Tommy O'Hagan, who suffered a serious ankle injury in his debut against Connacht back in December, could make just a second senior appearance backing up Warwick while Tom O'Toole, Adam McBurney and Nick Timoney are the other forward replacements.

Another pulling on the jersey for the second time is utility back Jack Owens. In what is likely to be a farewell outing, he will earn a second cap from the bench, more than two years on from his senior debut. He'll be alongside Jonny Stewart and Rob Lyttle on the bench.

Belfast Telegraph