Brian O’Driscoll will start for Leinster in the RaboDirect PRO12 final against Ulster at the RDS, Dublin tomorrow (kick-off 4.45pm).
Departing head coach Joe Schmidt confirmed the British & Irish Lions centre had been declared fit to play after missing last weekend’s Amlin Challenge Cup final victory over Stade Francais Paris with a back spasm.
“It’s great to have Brian back on board. Fergus McFadden did a great job for us last weekend, but it’s a real bonus having Brian’s experience back in the side,” said Schmidt.
But while O’Driscoll get the chance to bid for another major medal, and right the wrongs of the last three finals in this tournament which Leinster have lost, fellow Lion Sean O’Brien will miss the game.
Although he started the game last week, Schmidt admitted that the bruising he suffered has left him 85-90% fit. Shane Jennings takes his place in the back row.
“Sean has made really good progress and it is bruising rather than structural damage, so it’s more uncomfortable than anything else. He’ll be 85-90% fit by Saturday morning, but we’ve decided to stick with the squad and not risk him,” added Schmidt.
There are no worries over Leinster’s other Lions, Amlin Challenge Cup man of the match Jonny Sexton, full back Rob Kearney, prop Cian Healy and No 8 Jamie Heaslip, and they will all be hoping to link up with their fellow Hong Kong and Australia bound tourists in London on Sunday with another winners medal hanging around their necks.
Tommy Bowe will be seeking a different outcome for Ulster as he faces Leinster for the second time in the RaboDirect PRO12 final. He was a try scorer against them when the Ospreys won at the RDS in 2010.
Bowe lines-up in an Ulster back division that also features Jared Payne at full back. He will be joining up with the Barbarians on Sunday and could well face O’Driscoll, Sexton, Bowe and co in Hong Kong in the Lions’ opening game on Saturday, 1 June.
Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johan Muller (captain), Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams;
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Delcan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Mark Allen, Peter Nelson.
Leinster: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Ian Madigan, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (captain), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Jamie Hagan, Quinn Roux, Rhys Ruddock, John Cooney, Andrew Goodman, Andrew Conway