Leinster out to pack a punch

Last time these sides met in the RaboDirect Pro12 the Leinster scrum was left in a heap.

Leinster out to pack a punch

The destruction of the set piece was so emphatic that Ulster’s thirst for Heineken Cup final revenge may have been sated for a few hours that night.

Three months on and that feeling has dissipated. Leinster were creaking, their Heineken Cup failure stands testament to that. Now it is Leinster craving atonement and the scrum is where they have been concentrating on all week.

“We have been looking at that all week, the scrum and other parts of the pitch,” admitted second row Devin Toner.

“We did get bullied at Ravenhill and we will be doing whatever we can to get back at them this time. Their whole eight has been working very hard this year so we will be up against it.

“Playing in the RDS is always massive for us. We are the only team with a [Pro12] 100% home record this year and we will be looking to keep that going through to the end of the season.”

But if Leinster believe their desire to teach Ulster a lesson will be enough to get them over the line here, then think again. While Afoa is out, Ulster’s human wrecking ball Nick Williams is back to make his first start for over two months for this top-of-the-table derby.

The former Munster man is back in his number 8 position with Ireland’s Chris Henry back at openside following his quick recovery from knee surgery. Robbie Diack switches back to blindside.

Also returning to duty are Ruan Pienaar and Rory Best while the biggest call for Anscombe is bringing in Belfast Harlequins tight-head Ricky Lutton for his first Ulster start to fill the void left by the injured Declan Fitzpatrick and Afoa who is back in Auckland awaiting the birth of his third child.

Ulster have not won in Dublin since 1999, but with that little European job of facing Saracens next week at Twickenham, it’s a different Ulster that will make it’s annual trip to the RDS.

Williams has scored seven tries in 16 games and his barnstorming runs have been sorely missed as Ulster have gone from an 11-point lead in the Pro12 League to third, a point behind Leinster. But Williams is philosophical about Ulster’s blip.

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles. You can’t always have a good run, its part and parcel of the game but it’s good to be back and it’s good to be getting a run this week,” said Williams.

“I did a grade two strain of my medial and I was lucky I didn’t have to have an operation otherwise I would have been out for six to eight months but it was only eight to 10 weeks and I’ll take that over an operation any day.”

As Ulster form suffered with international call-ups, Williams was joined on the sidelines by Johann Muller and Jared Payne.

“It showed the depth in the squad and pushed it to extremes. I wouldn’t say I was one of the key men but I would have liked to have been there to help the lads, you never wish anyone to be injured but maybe it opens doors for other lads to have a go,” he added.

With a Heineken Cup quarter-final to look forward to, Williams feels the mood in the camp is still upbeat.

“We have spoken about going back to the basics and have compared the way we are travelling now to the way we were travelling at the start of the season. If the little things click we’ll be able to have a good run and hopefully the luck will bounce our way again.”

LEINSTER: R Kearney, D Kearney, B Macken, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa, I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, D Toner, Q Roux, K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, J Hagan, L Cullen, R Ruddock, J Cooney, A Goodman, A Conway.

ULSTER: J Payne, A Trimble, D Cave, S Olding, C Gilroy, P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, R Lutton, J Muller, D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams.

Replacements: R Herring, C Black, K McCall, L Stevenson, I Henderson, R Wilson, P Marshall, P Nelson.

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