Leinster bring back top international trio
Rugby:Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald have all been named in the Leinster side to play Edinburgh in Friday night’s RaboDirect Pro12 game in Murrayfield (7.35) as coach Joe Schmidt names a strong side ahead of the final two rounds of Heineken Cup matches.
O’Driscoll and Kearney both return ahead of schedule from their injuries, while Fitzgerald is named on the left wing, his first game since injuring his neck in the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne last April.
Kearney, who is named at fullback, has been out of action with a back injury since playing 32 minutes of the Pro12 defeat to Connacht at the Sportsground on September 28th, while O’Driscoll suffered an ankle injury after 23 minutes of the Pro12 clash against Cardiff on October 27th. All three players underwent operations on their injuries.
Fionn Carr is the only player to remain in the backline from last weekend’s victory over Connacht at the RDS, although he moves across to the right wing to facilitate the return of Fitzgerald to the side.
Jonathan Sexton and Eoin Reddan take over at halfback from Ian Madigan and Isaac Boss.
Secondrow Devin Toner is the only player to hold his place in the pack, where he will play alongside Leo Cullen, who captains the side.
There’s a new frontrow of Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and Mike Ross, while it’s all change in the backrow with Kevin McLaughlin, Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip making up the starting XV.
Shane Jennings has recovered from illness to take his place on the replacements bench alongside fellow Ireland internationals Michael Bent and Isaac Boss.
Ulster have made eight changes to the team that lost to Munster at Thomond Park for the top-of-the-table clash against Llanelli Scarlets at Ravenhill on Friday (7.05).
In the backline, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Jackson and Ruan Pienaar all return to the starting XV after missing the trip to Limerick.
Rob Herring and Adam Macklin are retained in the frontrow, while Tom Court starts at loosehead. Dan Tuohy makes his first start after recovering from a torn calf muscle and joins Lewis Stevenson in the secondrow. Chris Henry will captain Ulster and starts at openside, with Robbie Diack at blindside and Nick Williams at number eight.
Callum Black drops to the bench, as does Neil McComb and Roger Wilson. Paddy Wallace and John Afoa are also named as replacements alongside Niall Annett, Michael Heaney and Ricky Andrew.
Just four Munster players – skipper Doug Howlett, centre James Downey scrumhalf Conor Murray and Tommy O'Donnell - retain their places in the starting XV for the visit of Cardiff Blues to Musgrave Park on Saturday.
Keith Earls returns from injury to partner James Downey in the centre while flanker CJ Stander also returns from injury to be named on the bench
Ronan O'Gara will become Munster’s most capped player, winning his 234th competitive cap.
Meanwhile, Simon Zebo is one of nine Munster players to sign contract extensions at the province, with the 22-year-old international penning a three-year extension to his contract until the end of the 2015/2016 season.
Eight players have signed deals until the end of the 2014/2015 season, including three current Development players - JJ Hanrahan, Dave O'Callaghan and Luke O’Dea.
James Coughlan, Mike Sherry, Dave Foley, Paddy Butler and Sean Dougall are the others to pen new deals.
Munster coach Rob Penney welcomed the news, saying: “I think it gives the organisation real security going forward having that number re-committing to the group. It’s a real positive sign that the lads believe in what's happening here and can see a future here for themselves.
LEINSTER (v Edinburgh):R Kearney; F Carr, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (captain), D Toner, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements:A Dundon, H van der Merwe, M Bent, T Denton, S Jennings, I Boss, I Madigan, A Conway.
ULSTER (v Llanelli Scarlets):A D’Arcy; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Herring, A Macklin, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, N Williams. Replacements:N Annett, C Black, J Afoa, N McComb, R Wilson, M Heaney, P Wallace, R Andrew.
MUNSTER (v Cardiff):F Jones; D Howlett (capt), K Earls, J Downey, J Murphy; R O’Gara, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, M Sherry, S Archer, D Foley, D Ryan, T O’Donnell, S Dougall, J Coughlan. Replacements: S Henry, W du Preez, BJ Botha, B Holland, CJ Stander, D Williams, I Keatley, C Laulala.