Ulster host table-toppers Leinster at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday and the hosts need a bonus-point win to keep their slim semi-final hopes alive.
The Leinstermen will prove tough opposition as they look to finish the Guinness PRO12 regular season top of the pile and can do so with a win in Belfast.
What’s at stake? A win for the Leinstermen confirms their place as top seed going into the semi-finals and will continue a stunning ten-game winning streak in the league dating back to Boxing Day.
Ulster’s slim hope of catching Ospreys in fourth require the unlikely scenario of Ulster beating Leinster with a try-scoring bonus point, Ospreys losing to Scarlets without any bonus points, and Ulster making up a points difference of 73.
Ulster team news: Ulster’s most capped player Roger Wilson earns his 221st and final cap in white as he starts at No.8, flanked by Sean Reidy and Robbie Diack.
Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, a fan favourite in Ulster, earns his final appearance for the province after scoring 877 points for the side.
Pienaar starts at scrum-half in an unchanged back division with Paddy Jackson pulling the strings from fly-half. Charles Piutau, captain Andrew Trimble and Craig Gilroy provide the back three firepower while the Irish international partnership of Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall continue in midfield.
Hooker Rob Herring and prop Rodney Ah You come into the front row to join Andy Warwick.
Leinster team news: In his starting line up, head coach Leo Cullen named just four of the same players that edged past Glasgow Warriors last weekend.
Skipper Isa Nacewa comes in at full-back while wingers Fergus McFadden and Adam Byrne are retained.
Noel Reid and Garry Ringrose combine in the midfield with Irish internationals Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery named as the half-backs.
British & Irish Lions Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong return to the front row either side of hooker James Tracy.
Devin Toner and Hayden Triggs are recalled to the second row while No.8 Jack Conan wins his 50th cap for the province as he joins Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock in the back row.
After a trying season, Ulster head coach Les Kiss admits there is a tinge of disappointment as his side look to be missing out on the semi-finals.
“There will be more pressure (next year). I’ll certainly put more pressure on myself,” said Kiss.
“I can only imagine people are disappointed and they have every right to be. It’s not where we’d like to be. I accept it.
“Anything in life that is of worth has some degree of toughness and we’re in a pretty cut-throat sort of business. You’ve got to accept that’s part of the game.”
Key Battle: Ruan Pienaar v Luke McGrath
In what will be Ruan Pienaar’s swansong in an Ulster jersey, he will want to go out on a high and give the Kingspan crowd something to remember him by.
Pienaar’s game management and inch-perfect kicking game have been a cornerstone of his success over the years and he will certainly be tested by Leinster’s Luke McGrath.
McGrath has been impressive all season for the province and it will be up to him to direct and organise the powerful ball carriers Leinster possess.
Pienaar’s battle from the tee with Isa Nacewa could also prove decisive in what is set to be a tense match in Belfast.
LionsWatch: Leinster props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong make up a formidable Leinster front row and they will want to put in strong performances ahead of their semi-final.
Both men will look to gain the upper hand at scrum time and carry well against a well-drilled Ulster forward pack.
Key Stat: The Leinstermen have won their last ten Guinness PRO12 matches since Munster beat them in Limerick on 26 December – their only defeat to an Irish Province this season.
Did you know? Ulster’s only victory over a fellow Irish Province this season came when Connacht visited Belfast in round 11.
Ulster top points scorer: Ruan Pienaar 100 Top try scorer: Jacob Stockdale 9
Leinster top points scorer: Isa Nacewa 85 Top try scorer: Rory O’Loughlin, Joey Carbery 8
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 32, Ulster won 6, Leinster won 24 with 2 games drawn.
At Kingspan Stadium, 5.15pm. Live on BBC Sport NI
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU, 23rd competition game)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey (IRFU), Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (IRFU).
Citing Commissioner: Eugene Ryan (IRFU)
TMO: Leo Colgan (IRFU).
Ulster gave club legend Ruan Pienaar a winning send off at Kingspan with a 17-13 victory over Leinster but it wasn’t enough for them to sneak into the Guinness PRO12 semi-finals.
The home side needed a bonus point victory at least but were unable to get the four-tries against a Leinster side who slipped to second after Munster’s victory.
Roger Wilson, on his 221nd and last Ulster appearance, and Andrew Trimble got the vital scores for Ulster while Leinster responded with a penalty try.
An emotional Pienaar led out the Ulster side with his son Jean Luc at the Kingspan Stadium in what was in final appearance for the club.
Joey Carbery put the visitors ahead with two minutes gone after Ulster were penalised for a high tackle before Josh van der Flier made a try-saving tackle on wing Trimble.
The danger wasn’t averted though and a five metre scrum for Ulster and Roger Wilson managed to force his way over from close range to give his side the lead with Paddy Jackson adding the extras.
Fly-half Carbery was able to reduce the deficit to 7-6 with a 22nd-minute penalty following a strong Garry Ringrose break for Leinster.
Piutau was a continous threat to the Leinster line and although the visitors enjoyed spells of pressure themselves it was Ulster who got the final points of the first 40.
Jackson added his second successful kick in the final minute to give Ulster a 10-6 lead at the half-way point.
Pienaar gave Ulster the perfect start to the second half as his chip through was collected by winger Trimble who dotted down with Jackson adding the extras.
Leinster thought they had responded immediately when Cian Healy forced his way over but the TMO adjudged him to have been held up and the visitors were forced to settle for a five metre scrum.
And after numerous re-set scrums the visitors had the try they were after as referee Andrew Brace awarded them the penalty try and Carbery added the extra to reduce the arrears to 17-13.
Pienaar was replaced to a massive standing ovation with just over ten minutes left to go and Carbery kicked Leinster deep into Munster territory from a penalty with 74 minutes remaining.
But the visitors, who already had a home semi-final secured, were unable to force their way through a stubborn Ulster defence and will now face Scarlets in the Guinness PRO12 semi-finals.
That match is due to place at the RDS on May 19 with kick-off at 7.45pm.
The Guinness PRO12 Final takes place on May 27 at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Fans can guarantee their place by booking their tickets via www.ticketmaster.ie
Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final