Ulster ripe to end dismal run against Blues
ULSTER have beaten Leinster just once in their last 18 clashes since 2004. This is a deplorable record ripe for changing. And the conditions look favourable too.
In terms of the League, Ulster have made the best start of any club since the advent of the 'home and away' formula in the season 2003-04.
Leinster are not looking too shabby themselves. They have lost just one of their last five League matches and have lost just one of their last nine against Irish provinces.
However, there is a yawning 12-point gap between Ulster in first and Leinster back in third, such has been the rocket-fuelled start to the northerners' season.
They received a major wake-up call last Friday night when coach Mark Anscombe would have been furious at the breakdown in the basics of their game.
Ulster simply could not execute the fundamentals at the scrum and lineout and in the passing and tactical kicking areas where they had been so sound.
Clermont-Auvergne and Northampton Saints share one similarity, their total commitment to physicality. They play directly, engaging in thorough trench warfare wherever they can find it.
That is why there were a number of bruised and some broken bodies left to be healed in both Irish camps at the start of the week.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has made eight changes to his side; Anscombe four to his. This inter-provincial derby could just boil right down to which one has dealt best with what they have lost.
Schmidt has, no doubt, laid down the law. Standards have been set. They must be met. The omission of the 'rock stars' is a reason, not an excuse.
It is also a chance for Ian Madigan to show that he can control a game. He can be electric on the front-foot. It is what he does on the back-foot that could make all the difference this evening. Ulster are blessed with the psychology of still being in control of their destiny in Europe and the Pro12. Leinster aren't. The champions are right on the edge of all reason.
LEINSTER - N Reid; A Conway, B Macken, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Bent, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.
ULSTER - J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, I Henderson, N McComb, R Diack, C Henry (capt) N Williams.