Friday 24 May 2013

Ulster v Leinster Head to Head

See my preview here

Before the teams were announced, I was finding it hard to separate the finalists of the Pro12.

Both teams have announced very strong teams, with strong benches. Both provinces are developing depth, especially when you consider the likes of Sean O'Brien, Luke Marshall and Craig Gilroy are all not involved through injury.

So who has the better team?

15. Fullback- Jared Payne vs Rob Kearney

Both are fantastic players. On form, both are among the best in the world. Kearney has the edge in defense, while Payne has a little bit more magic about him in attack. On his day, Kearney is devastating on the counter attack, while Payne gets involved more in play, playing a playmaking role out wide that Ulster have used to great effect this season. Kearney has been a shadow of his former self since returning from injury, so Payne just edges it.

Choice: Jared Payne - but not by much.

14. Right Winger - Andrew Trimble vs Fergus McFadden

Two players who started out their careers in the centre, with Trimble having resigned himself to a career on the wing, while McFadden is probably more suited to inside centre. Most recent Irish selections suggest that McFadden is ahead of Trimble, but I think that must be due to his increased versatility, and Trimble's form this year cannot be ignored.

Choice: Andrew Trimble - again, not by much.

13. Outside Centre - Darren Cave vs Brian O'Driscoll 

Not as close as the previous two selections, but Cave has done well this year, and is currently 2nd in line to O'Driscoll's green jersey

Choice: Brian O'Driscoll

12. Inside Centre - Stuart Olding vs Ian Madigan

In a few years this may be closer. Both players are filling in for an injury. Both started out as outhalves, while Olding may have found his best position, the 10 jersey suits Madigan more. His pass works well as a 12, but his playmaking ability and small stature marks him out as a ten. Madigan has come on a lot this year, as an outhalf and a player, and is my pick here.

Choice Ian Madigan

11. Left Wing - Tommy Bowe vs Isa Nacewa

Maybe I should have put the wingers up against their direct opposition, because both of these players should make it. It's almost impossible to split them, and both have hugely positive impacts on their teams.

Choice: Isa Nacewa - It's his last game and everything

10. Outhalf - Paddy Jackson vs Johnny Sexton

Johnny Sexton is the Lions 10, and the best outhalf in the Northern Hemisphere. This one is conclusive.

Choice: Johnny Sexton

9. Scrumhalf - Ruan Pienaar vs Isaac Boss

This one is almost as conclusive as the outhalf choice. Ruan Pienaar is the single most important player for Ulster.

Choice: Ruan Pienaar

1. Loosehead - Tom Court vs Cian Healy

Tom Court isn't the liability he once was, but at the same time, Healy is one of the best looseheads in the world, and at 25, is nowhere near his peak.

Choice: Cian Healy

2. Hooker - Rory Best vs Richardt Strauss

Rory Best was stupidly overlooked for the Lions. He has been immense this season, with the exception of a few wayward throws. He'll be looking to prove Gatland wrong. Injury meant that Strauss wasn't able to challenge Best for the Irish jersey. His upbringing as a backrower is evident in his play, and he plays differently to most other hookers.

Choice - Rory Best - just.

3. Tighthead - John Afoa vs Mike Ross

Mike Ross has saved Ireland on countless times. His scrummaging ability is the reason why Ireland are competitve sometimes. He doesn't offer much else around the park, but remains vital to Irish hopes. Not only is Afoa a fearsome scrummager, he offers a lot around the pitch, with great carries, vital steals and defending the fringes of rucks with aplomb.

Choice - John Afoa

4. Loosehead Lock - Johann Muller vs Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen is one of those players that you don't realise his important unless you play with him, and you see all the work and "tricks" that he comes up with in a game. However, Muller is a better lineout operator, a better leader, and offers more bulk in scrums.

Choice - Johann Muller

5. Tightead Lock - Dan Tuohy vs Devin Toner

I rate Dan Tuohy very highly and can't understand why he isn't higher in the pecking order with Ireland. Toner has finally improved and shown some talent in recent weeks, but not enough for me to pick him over Tuohy here.

Choice - Dan Tuohy

6. Blindside Flanker Robbie Diack vs Kevin McLaughlin

Kevin McLaughlin gets through a huge amount of work, but so does Diack, and Diack is significantly better in the loose, and able to play anywhere in the back 5.

Choice - Robbie Diack

7. Openside Flanker Chris Henry vs Shane Jennings

Choice: Chris Henry

8. No. 8 - Nick Williams vs Jamie Heaslip

Choice: Jamie Heaslip


16. Sub Hooker - Rob Herring vs Sean Cronin

Sean Cronin is a great rugby player, fantastic in the loose, with speed and ball handling skills. Unfortunately he can't do a hooker's primary job which is throwing. I'd still prefer him in my team than Herring though.

Choice- Sean Cronin

17. Sub Loosehead - Callum Black vs Jack McGrath

Both have had good seasons, with Jack McGrath showing a bit more potential. Excited to see him develop as Leinster's number 2 no. 1 next season.

Choice: Jack McGrath

18. Sub Tighthead - Declan Fitzpatrick vs Jamie Hagan

Typical that Hagan only now begins to show why people were waxing lyrical about him after he's decided to leave. On this form he is the back up to Ross for Ireland ahead of Fitzpatrick.

Choice: Jamie Hagan

19. Sub 2nd row - Iain Henderson vs Quinn Roux

Injuries have disrupted Roux's season, and next season big things are expected of him. But for now, Henderson has finally shown me what the fuss is about with some barnstorming runs, and uplifting carries for his team. His work rate needs to improve, but there is a lot of talent to work with.

Choice: Iain Henderson

20. Sub Back Row - Mike McComish vs Rhys Ruddock

Rhys Ruddock is another I rate very highly. He is a leader, that gets through a huge amount of work, and a good lineout option. McComish is not the same standard as Ruddock

Choice Rhys Ruddock

21. Sub Scrumhalf - Paul Marshall vs John Cooney

Paul Marshall hasn't had a lot of opportunities, yet finds himself in the Irish set up by the virtue of some exciting cameos. Whenever he comes on, Ulster play at a higher tempo and frequently score tries. Cooney is a similar player, with a solid quick pass, but is inexperienced, and has yet to display his full potential

Choice - Paul Marshall

22. Sub Inside back - Mike Allen vs Andrew Goodman

Mike Allen is another that impressed me during the 6 Nations when the Ulster frontliners were away. Comfortable on the wing and centre, he has a bright future ahead of him, starting with Emerging Ireland this summer. Goodman has been solid since arriving, but I can't help but think he is over-rated. Maybe he'll prove me wrong next season.

Choice Mike Allen

23. Sub Outside Back - Peter Nelson vs Andrew Conway

Conway has been earmarked for stardom since starring for Blackrock in the Leinster Junior Cup of 2007. Since then he has made quite a rise, but has stalled a bit, meaning that his move to Munster could suit all parties. Nelson is still part of the Ulster academy, and has featured quite a bit for the first team this season, showing how highly he is rated. 

Choice Andrew Conway

Starting Lineup:
Ulster 9
Leinster 6

Ulster 3
Leinster 5

While Ulster have more head to head victories, I think Leinster have the more comprehensive victories. This game is very tight, and could be decided by a mistake.

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