The Irish province will be looking for revenge after falling to a 23-21 loss to the Scarlets at the start of the season. With both teams missing key players due to 6 Nations duties other players have been given the chance to shine.
Rob Kearney captains Leinster from full-back, looking to prove his fitness to Joe Schmidt before Ireland’s opening game against England next Saturday.
He is joined in the back three by Barry Daly and James Lowe who returns from his three-match suspension he received after a red card against Munster.
Rory O’Loughlin and Conor O’Brien start in the centre with the latter looking to continue his recent rise for the blues. Ciaran Frawley will be at No 10, joined by Hugh O’Sullivan in the half-backs, who makes his first start for Leinster.
Cullen has named a strong pack with Jack McGrath, James Tracy, and Michael Bent in the front-row. They are joined by Ross Molony and Mick Kearney in the second-row. While Max Deegan, Scott Penny, and Caelan Doris slot into the back-row.
Leinster have strength on the bench where the likes of Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park and Noel Reid available to be called on. With Jack Dunne ready to come on to make his debut.
On the Scarlets side, Jake Ball has the same opportunity as Kearney to prove his fitness before the opening matches of the 6 Nations.
They also name Johnny McNicholl at full-back, a player Leinster know all too well after his hat-trick in last seasons final.
With 11 players getting an international call, the rest of the Scarlets team is relatively new with only five remaining from last weekend’s loss to Racing 92.
Along with McNicholl, the survivors are Dan Jones, David Bulbring, Dan Davis and Josh Macleod.
Team Announcement | Cyhoeddiad Tîm— Scarlets Rugby (@scarlets_rugby) January 24, 2019
Here's the team heading to Dublin to face @leinsterrugby tomorrow evening⬇️
Dyma'r tîm sy'n teithio i Ddulyn i wynebu Leinster nos yfory ⬇️#inthepack #ynypac pic.twitter.com/Z9r3UBoerE
Both sides are aware of the opportunity the international break gives to players with Scarlets coach Wayne Pivoc noting that the game will be good for both sets of players.
“When their internationals are away, they get excited like our guys do, so we’re expecting a very stern test,” he said.
While returning Leinster winger Lowe pointed towards the threat the Scarlets pose going forward.
“It’s an exciting challenge,” he said when asked how he felt about facing them, “Scarlets are a very very good attacking team,” he added.
Leinster are currently top of conference B, 19 points ahead of Edinburgh and 20 above their opponents on Friday. Both teams will be looking to impress while the regular starters are away and will be hoping to kick-off the international break with a win.
Munster confirm Zebo signing
This co-funded contract will see Munster’s all-time record try-scorer return from Racing 92 and line out for his home club where he made 144 appearances and scored 60 tries between 2010 and 2018.
In his third season with the Top 14 side, the 31-year-old has played 55 times and scored 21 tries to date.
Head Coach Johann van Graan said, “The opportunity to bring Simon back to Munster came about in early April following a final review of our squad’s budgetary position for season-end and with assistance from the IRFU to support what we believe is a really good deal for Munster and Irish Rugby.
“Simon’s desire to return to Ireland and play with his home club is illustrated by his willingness to sign at a level below his market value elsewhere. This has made bringing the province’s all-time leading try-scorer back home, possible.”
Simon Zebo said, “I am thrilled and honoured to be coming back home to play for Munster. My family and I have been so lucky to have enjoyed three incredible years with Racing 92 in Paris and I cannot thank the team there enough, I really have made friends for life and take with me some brilliant memories.
“However, as everyone knows, Munster holds a very special place in my heart and I’ve always said that I wanted to play for them and potentially Ireland again, so when this opportunity arose the lure of being close to home, family and friends and Munster fans, it outweighed all other options. I cannot wait to get back to the HPC with the team and hopefully a packed Thomond Park.”
Ulster Rugby agree to release Coetzee early
Marcell Coetzee has played his last game for Ulster Rugby.
With back-row, Marcell Coetzee, currently side-lined with a hamstring injury, Ulster Rugby has agreed terms which will see the player released from the club at the end of this month, ahead of his planned departure at the conclusion of the 2020/21 season.
Given the need for several weeks of rehabilitation following the injury sustained by Coetzee in last month’s Guinness PRO14 fixture against Leinster, Ulster Rugby and the player have reached a mutual agreement to part ways on Friday 30 April.
Head of Rugby Operations and Recruitment, Bryn Cunningham, said: “We have come to an agreement that will allow Marcell the time and space required to continue his rehab.
Lowry retained at 10 for Ulster v Zebre
21-year-old, Cormac Izuchukwu will make his first start for the Ulster men as he is named in the second row alongside Kieran Treadwell. Marty Moore comes back into the starting front row at tighthead, with Eric O’Sullivan and John Andrew retaining their starting berths at loosehead and hooker. Jordi Murphy will captain the side at openside flanker, with Sean Reidy and David McCann being retained at blindside and Number Eight.
A youthful back line sees Ethan McIlroy coming into the back three at full-back, with Rob Lyttle on the left wing and Robert Baloucoune returning on the right. Stewart Moore and James Hume will make up the midfield pairing, while John Cooney and Michael Lowry are named at half-back.
Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor and Matty Rea are the forward reinforcements, with David Shanahan, Ian Madigan and Ben Moxham providing the back line options on the bench.
Ulster team to play Zebre Rugby, Guinness PRO14 Round 16, Friday 19 March at Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 8.15pm, live on Premier Sports / eir Sport):
(15-9) Ethan McIlroy, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Rob Lyttle, Michael Lowry, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore, Cormac Izuchukwu, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordy Murphy (Capt.), David McCann.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Callum Reid, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Matty Rea, David Shanahan, Ian Madigan, Ben Moxham.