Guinness Pro14 Game of the Weekend: Ulster V Leinster

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Antrim , Ireland - 6 May 2017; Andrew Trimble of Ulster is tackled by Tadhg Furlong, left, and Jack Conan of Leinster during the Guinness PRO12 Round 22 match between Ulster and Leinster at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

With the European competition break over the Guinness Pro14 returns this weekend. The most crucial game of the Guinness Pro14 round seven comes at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast, Northern Ireland. With Ulster and Leinster second and third in conference B respectively, they both need a victory to keep in touch with conference leaders – Scarlets. Ulster v Leinster on Saturday evening, will be Last Word On Rugby’s one to watch.

Guinness Pro14 Game of the Weekend

Ulster will be hoping to rectify their big defeat to La Rochelle last week and return back to winning ways in the Pro14. Head coach, Jono Gibbes, will be hoping his side perform like they did against Wasps instead of last week’s disappointing performance.

Ulster have only suffered one loss in the league this season in a surprise defeat to Zebre and they managed to defeat Connacht 16-8 last time out in the Guinness Pro14 at the Kingspan Stadium. They currently sit second in Conference B, two points behind the Scarlets and ahead of their opponents Leinster on points difference. If there is a game where they need to return to form, it would be this game at home to their fellow Irish Province.

Leinster are currently third in Conference B of the Pro14 and after six rounds of the competition, have only one loss, like Ulster. Their loss came as a surprise to many, going down 38-19 to the Cheetahs in South Africa in round four. Leinster managed to recover from this hiccup to defeat Edinburgh at the RDS, in a tough close encounter followed up with another win over Munster. The Dubliners had a very successful start to their European campaign taking a maximum ten points from their opening two matches. They were impressive in defeating Montpellier and followed that up with victory over Glasgow Warriors last weekend. Head coach Leo Cullen will be hoping his side continue their impressive form as they return to the Pro14, in Saturday’s match.

With both Irish provinces trailing the Scarlets in Conference B, they know nothing but a victory will do to keep pace with the defending champions. Head coaches Jono Gibbes and Leo Cullen will expect big performances from their men following the opening European rounds of fixtures.

Crucial Match-up in the Guinness Pro14

It will be a crucial match for the Pro14: both sides need victories to keep the pace at the top of their conference. Both teams have scored twenty two tries apiece this season, which shows the attacking threat each side pose. Victory could be decided by whichever defence can shut down the opposition more often, but who will come out on top?

Look for some fireworks in Belfast this weekend!

Ulster V Leinster: Players to Watch

There will be plenty of talent on show at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday afternoon, including a lot of international players. Here are Last Word on Rugby’s players to watch.

Home Team

Ulster full back Charles Piutau: the Kiwi could be a huge factor on Friday night and has the quality in his game to cause Leinster problems. His running angles and the ability to unlock defences is difficult to defend. Piutau, who is leaving for Bristol at the end of the season, has been in fine form for Ulster. His attacking threat, utilising his attacking weapons in the game, is something Leinster will need to watch for on Saturday. Charles Piutau will be the Last Word on Rugby’s key player to look out for on Saturday evening at the Kingspan Stadium.

Forward Iain Henderson will be another key player on Saturday. Ulster will expect a big game from their blindside flanker, with plenty of hard hitting carries and tackles. Although  a British and Irish Lion, Henderson will also need some strong leadership, especially in the set piece and line out, which will be a highly contested area on Saturday. In what is expected to be a very a tight match, Henderson’s influence could be important to the result.

Visitors

Starting with Leinster Full Back, Joey Carbery. Carbery returned for Leinster in week three of the Pro14 after missing out on the opening two fixtures of the campaign. The 21 year-old marked his return to the line up with a try, against the Southern Kings, before scoring again in round five against Edinburgh. Carbery also managed to score a try against Montpellier in the Champions Cup and put in a fine display against Glasgow last weekend. The 4 time capped Irish International, will be fresh and ready on Saturday night, hoping to continue his fine form.

The final LWOR ‘Player to Watch’ on Saturday night is Rhys Ruddock: the back row forward has been impressive so far this season, having missed the opening game. The big Irishman has had a massive impact with his dynamic ball carrying and his work rate in defence. Ruddock took the man of the match award last week in victory over Glasgow and came close the week before in defeating Montpellier. The 26 year-old is one of the form men and should be fit and ready to go on Saturday. The 16 times capped international could be a huge factor and has the game to cause Ulster problems. His dynamic ball carrying and solid defence is huge for Leinster.

Key Battles

Key battles between the fullbacks and both blindside flankers will be mouthwatering. With both Carbery and Piutau so exciting to watch, it will be very interesting and entertaining to see which player will be able to effect the game more for their team from the back. While there will be a tough bruising battle in the pack between Iain Henderson and Rhys Ruddock. British and Irish Lion Henderson is a consistent performer for Ulster and is one of their go to men. Henderson will have his work cut out against the in form and powerful Rhys Ruddock in what will be an interesting and key battle on Saturday.

Ulster V Leinster Match Prediction

The game is expected to be a tough and gruelling fixture, with both teams needing the victory. Expect a tight but exciting match with both teams using their physical packs before allowing the flair in the backs to create tries. With twenty two tries apiece so far this season we should expect to see plenty on Saturday evening. Who will come out on top? The result could be very important for the final standings of conference B of the 2017/18 Guinness Pro14.

The Last Word On Rugby’s Guinness Pro14 ‘game of the weekend’ could go either way. Ulster’s attacking threat can cause Leinster problems and they will look to use their home advantage. However, Leinster will be the favourites heading into the game on Saturday evening, despite being away from home.

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