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PREVIEW: Leinster Make Changes for Cheetahs

Leinster have switched up their team for the weekend with some big names coming back in

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Leinster have welcomed back some stars for the visit of the Cheetahs to the RDS on Friday at 19 35.

Leo Cullen has been able to recall the likes of Rhys Ruddock, Dave Kearney and Adam Byrne to the starting XV as his side prepare for the Cheetahs challenge.

The front-row sees a complete overhaul to last weekend’s 59-19 win over the Southern Kings with Peter Dooley, Bryan Byrne, and Michael Bent replacing Ed Byrne, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter.

Byrne and Porter take up places on the bench.

Ross Molony retains his place once more following a fine run of form but is joined by Scott Fardy in the second-row who comes in for Mick Kearney.

Captain Ruddock is at six, with Josh Murphy moving to the bench, while Max Deegan and Caelin Doris continue in the back-row to complete the pack.

Jamison Gibson-Park is back to partner Ross Byrne in the half-backs, with scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan taking the No 21 jersey for this weekend.

Conor O’Brien switches back to 12 after being at 13 last week and is partnered by Rory O’Loughlin, with Noel Reid heading to the bench.

The back three sees Fergus McFadden go to 11, with Adam Byrne coming in at 14, and Dave Kearney returning at full-back. James Lowe is out of this week’s team while Barry Daly, who was at full-back last weekend, is the 23rd man this time around.

With Leinster’s next game not for another three weeks and the conclusion of the 6 Nations before then Rory O’Loughlin has spoken of his views on the past few weeks.

“It’s a nice way to finish this block. I think there’s been a smaller group around here for the last month probably and a lot of academy lads have gotten to train with us a consistent basis and a good few have got to play with us,” he said.

He also talked about his hopes to finish this block of games on a high.

“I’m looking forward to getting a good crack in front of the home crowd and putting in a bit of a performance,” he said.

While Leinster have already secured a semi-final place thanks to their incredible lead at the top of Conference B, the Cheetahs have named a side in hope of bouncing back into the play-off places in Conference A.

They currently sit in sixth but are only six points off Cardiff in third and will take encouragement in knowing that they defeated Leinster 38-19 in their only previous meeting.

Leinster will be looking to extend their 22-point lead at the top of their conference before heading into this break and have named a strong team to do so, however the Cheetahs will be looking to make it two form two when they face the reigning champions.

Pro14

WATCH: Kings get a Red & Yellow in one TMO review v Ulster.

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Southern Kings haven’t had the most successful start to Pro14 Rugby and this season is proving to be no different.

With only 3 wins to their name they sit bottom of their conference, however, they can boast that they are the most ill-discliplined team in the Pro 14.

Saturday in Belfast helped them cement this place further.

There was a TMO review for what looked like a high swinging arm aimed at John Cooney however during the review, there was a high, no arm hits to the head of Robert Balacoune to also consider.

You can watch both incidents below:

Ulster got the win but it looks like it came at a cost and gives coach Dan McFarland a few headaches ahead of their big Champions Cup Quarter Final this weekend v Leinster.

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Pro14

Ulster count cost of bonus point win over Southern Kings

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Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

There were mixed emotions for Head Coach Dan McFarland as Ulster secured five points against the Southern Kings on Saturday night at the Kingspan Stadium.

The win puts Ulster into second place behind Leinster in Conference B, however the loss of Louis Ludik, Marty Moore and Darren Cave adds to the growing list of injury woes ahead of Saturday’s huge European Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster.

Saturday’s fresh injuries leave Ulster depleted in midfield, with Luke Marshall still not fully fit following an ACL injury and James Hume ruled out after breaking his ankle in training last week.

“I have got to wait and see but you saw the same as me and it did not look good,” said McFarland of fullback Louis Ludik’s injury after he was helped off the pitch by the medical team just nine minutes into the game.

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“It’s still too early to tell but we will have to assess the injuries and see how Louis is and how Darren is. Obviously James (Hume) is out. We’ll have a look at Lukey and see how he’s going on.”

McFarland joked he may have to call upon former Ireland centre and Ulster’s defence coach, Jared Payne, to fill the gap in midfield.

“Jared Payne’s wondering whether he should play, but we’re saying definitely not – you’ve had your chance,” laughed McFarland.

On a more positive note, McFarland praised Ulster number eight, Marcell Coetzee on his return to action from a hamstring injury sustained in the last European outing against the Leicester Tigers.

“It was good to have him back and he went well tonight. Marcell’s been a strong performer for us this year and it was disappointing for him and us that he hasn’t been able to play this last while but it was great to see him back out there and at his bullish self.”

Despite some superb individual performances, McFarland reflected on his sides rustiness and tendency to turn the ball over or cough it up at crucial moments. Indeed, although the win was somewhat spluttering, Ulster ran in 5 tries tuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle, Robert Baloucoune, Marcell Coetzee and John Andrew.

The front row did well – Herring was dynamic in his ball carrying and was solid at the set-piece. Andy Warwick put in a serious shift, tackling well can carrying over the hard yards. It was reassuring too, to see Herbst come on at loose-head and create issues for the King’s scrum.

Rob Lyttle looked dangerous in attack, squeezing his way through the King’s defence on a number of occasions – enough to earn him the man of the match award. Michael Lowry and Bobby Baloucoune are improving with every game they play and hardly put a foot wrong. Stuart McCloskey will have divided opinion – his size and power were a definite asset to Ulster however, his once frustrating habit of forcing offloads has now seemingly turned into an inability to pass. He took his try remarkably well however, and remains an important focal point of Ulster’s attack, often drawing in several defenders.

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Saturday’s win completes an impressive run in the PRO14 for Ulster, taking 21 points from a possible 25. Ulster now have three games remaining in the PRO14 with away games against Glasgow and Edinburgh, and a home fixture with Leinster.

“In the forefront of our minds is that we have to go to Glasgow and Edinburgh with their Scottish internationals back and we have the best team in Europe in the last game of the season, so we’re under no illusions to the size of the task ahead of us,” said McFarland.

“But we’ve put ourselves into the position that we said we wanted to be in.”

Of course, Ulster’s focus will now change swiftly to Saturday’s Champion’s Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster at the Aviva stadium against defending champions Leinster. Although it is hoped Ulster’s fourth consecutive PRO14 win will give Ulster significant momentum ahead of this weekend, McFarland notes that, while Leinster rested a number of key players in their game against Edinburgh this weekend, that was a luxury Ulster could not afford.

“I think it is a question of the context,” he said. “Leinster are top, so in the context of the conference itself it does not matter even if it obviously matters to them that they lost in Edinburgh and they’ll be disappointed in that. They were able to rest a lot of their players.”

“We are in a different position, we are in a ridiculously difficult conference where there is a fight going on and we needed to make sure that we got the maximum points. We do not have as big a squad, guys step up and they play.”

Despite some excellent performances this season, particularly in the Champions Cup competition, McFarland is confident Ulster have a lot more to offer. Indeed, Ulster will now focus their preparation on producing a memorable performance on Saturday against Leinster, who are considered by many to be strong favourites.

“We have put in some good performances in Europe already, but recently we have not strung together a really good 80 minutes yet. In order to win next week we will. There is literally no doubt about that.”

“We will have to be at our best,” added McFarland.

Indeed, Ulster will require an exceptional performance to challenge this great Leinster side.  It is worth bearing in mind Leinster have injury problems of their own – Robbie Henshaw, Devin Toner and Josh van der Flier are all expected absent and several players will still be reeling from Ireland’s six nations capitulation.

For Ulster, finding a centre partner for Stuart McCloskey will be crucial as will proving the fitness of Marty Moore ahead of Saturday – the pack’s cornerstone. Given the sizeable Leinster contingent in this squad, Ulster’s ‘blue streak’ will have a point to prove in Dublin this Saturday.

In the words of Sportscaster Al Michaels, ‘Do you believe in miracles? YES!’

MATCH HIGHLIGHTS:

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Pro14

Gruesome image of Josh Navidi dislocated elbow emerges

Not the feint hearted.

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Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Some of the Welsh Grand Slam heroes returned to club this action weekend. One of those was Welsh back rower Josh Navidi.

Navidi made our ‘Team of the Tournament’ after several fine displays for Wales throughout the Six Nations Championship.

He certainly would have looked to back up his form with Cardiff in the season run in but that is looking unlikely following a horrifying dislocated elbow.

If you’re not squeamish, check out the image below …

Navidi isn’t the only Grand Slam hero to have suffered injury. Scarlets prop, Rob Evans was also removed from the field following an elbow injury. The extent of his injury will be known following a scan later today.

Some fans on Twitter have questioned the decision for the players to be rushed back into action and former Welsh Scrum-Half confirmed that he also fell victim to a serious injury the week after Grand Slam Glory.

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