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Thursday 20 June 2019

Ulster waving the white flag before trip to sold-out RDS

Leinster out-half Ciaran Frawley
Leinster out-half Ciaran Frawley
Dan McFarland

The difference between Leinster and Ulster is that when the champions travel with their second 15, they get away with it because of the depth of their resources.

Dan McFarland has conceded the points on offer in the latest round of the PRO14 League before the Ulstermen have even boarded the bus.

The only thing that could cause a shock is for Leinster to be as convinced of this as everyone who saw the team-sheets at noon yesterday.

The sold-out signs have gone up at the RDS for what should be one of those white-knuckle rides.

Instead, the greatest interest in this interpro will centre around how many of the approximate 12,500 season ticket holders will take their seats on what is forecast to be a freezing night in Dublin.

The pragmatic McFarland has accepted that Leinster are too far in front in Conference B to be reeled in.

He will deal with the play-off threat from Benetton Treviso, Scarlets and Edinburgh after the final two rounds of the Champions Cup.

It is Leinster's embarrassment of riches that allows coach Leo Cullen to open the door into their pre-Christmas rotation.

The decision to start Ciaran Frawley is not designed to rebuild confidence from that intercept thrown to Munster wing Keith Earls. It has all been pre-ordained.

The selection policy is about planning a pathway ahead to manage the Ireland internationals, keep the hunters hungry and aid the development of others, such as the third-choice out-half.

"What we've done is started with different teams and mixed and matched from the bench. Ross (Byrne) started against Connacht, Johnny (Sexton) started last week and Ciaran starts this weekend" said Cullen.

"With the 21 games we have in the League, and trying to challenge on two fronts, it's important we build depth.

"You need to rely on your squad.

"You can't rely on the same 15 to get you through the regular 21 Pro14 games, plus the six European games, plus what we hope are some play-off games at the end of the season.

"We've done that in a number of positions - hooker is another example.

"This is a great opportunity for Ciaran.

"We wanted to expose him to Thomond Park last week and this is another great step for him, against Ulster in another inter-pro game and all the additional pressures that goes on top of that.

"We're very excited about the game."

Predominantly an out-half for Skerries and the Leinster Youths, a growth spurt and Frawley's willingness to engage physically has broadened his versatility.

"He's working really hard with Felipe (Contepomi) and Emmet (Farrell) and Stu (Lancaster).

"He has gone well, even in the Connacht game - coming in early at 15 was important.

"He has played 10,12 and 15 at underage, he is a good athlete, moves well and his kicking game is excellent."

Understandably, McFarland has taken the view that Racing 92 at home in Belfast is a greater priority than runaway Leinster at the RDS.

There will be four Ulster Academy players on show in Matthew Dalton, Angus Kernohan, James Hume and Michael Lowry.

Former St Andrew's College loose forward Greg Jones will start for the first time this season as Wiehahn Herbst, Alan O'Connor and Robert Lyttle return from injury.

There should be debuts for potential Ireland U20 fly-half Bruce Houston and lock Caleb Montgomery from the bench.

It all adds up to five points for Leinster.

Leinster: R Kearney (capt); A Byrne, C O'Brien, N Reid, B Daly; C Frawley, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, S Cronin, A Porter, R Molony, M Kearney, J Murphy, S Penny, M Deegan. Reps: J Tracy, E Byrne, M Bent, O Dowling, C Doris, H O'Sullivan, R Byrne, J O'Brien.

Ulster: M Lowry; R Lyttle, D Cave, J Hume, A Kernohan; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; K McCall, A McBurney, W Herbst, M Dalton, A O'Connor (capt), G Jones, S Reidy, N Timoney. Reps: J Andrew, A Warwick, T O'Toole, C Montgomery, C Ross, J Stewart, B Houston, P Nelson.

Verdict: Leinster.

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