Johnny Sexton in for his first Leinster start of the season against Sharks

URC team news: Duane Vermeulen returns to action with Ulster for clash with Ospreys

Johnny Sexton makes his first start of the season after being named to lead the Leinster side which will face the Sharks at the RDS on Saturday, kick-off 5.05pm, live on RTÉ and Premier Sports.

After playing the final 14 minutes off the bench in last week’s win away to Ulster which kept them top of the table, the Leinster and Irish captain is one of four changes to the province’s starting line-up.

Rob Russell will make his first RDS start on the left wing, as will Charlie Ngatai at inside centre, with Robbie Henshaw shifting to outside centre. The only change up front sees Will Connors named at openside for his first start since January.

Cian Healy, Rhys Ruddock and Cormac Foley are also restored to an experienced bench again featuring James Ryan and also Ross Byrne and Garry Ringrose,


The Sharks, also unbeaten after wins away to Zebre and the Dragons, make just two changes to their starting line-up, with Hyron Andrews starting in the secondrow and Reniel Hugo moving to the bench, while Sikhumbuzo Notshe is promoted at number eight and Phepsi Buthelezi moves to the bench.

Meanwhile, the Springboks number eight Duane Vermeulen makes his seasonal return for Ulster following his involvement in the Rugby Championship for the Saturday night game against the Ospreys at the Kingspan Stadium (kick-off 7.35pm, live on TG4 and Premier Sports).

This is one of nine changes in personnel from last week’s starting line-up, with Nick Timoney shifting to openside and Jordi Murphy recalled at blindside.

Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew and Marty Moore form a new frontrow, while Wallabies lock Sam Carter returns in the secondrow. Ian Madigan is recalled at outhalf, while Rob Lyttle and Craig Gilroy start on the wings.

Declan Moore, Andy Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Frank Bradshaw-Ryan – who is set to earn his first Ulster cap if called upon – and Marcus Rea will provide the forward cover. David Shanahan, Billy Burns, and Aaron Sexton will form the backline bench.

LEINSTER: Jimmy O’Brien; Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Charlie Ngatai, Rob Russell; Johnny Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ross Molony, Jason Jenkins; Ryan Baird, Will Connors, Jack Conan.

Replacements: John McKee, Cian Healy, Vakhtang Abdaladze, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Cormac Foley, Ross Byrne, Garry Ringrose.

SHARKS: Aphelele Fassi; Werner Kok, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Ben Tapuai, Thaakir Abrahams; Boeta Chamberlain, Grant Williams; Ntuthuko Mchunu, Kerron van Vuuren, Thomas du Toit (capt); Justin Basson, Hyron Andrews; James Venter, Dylan Richardson, Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

Replacements: Dan Jooste, Dian Bleuler, Carlu Sadie, Reniel Hugo, Phepsi Buthelezi, Cameron Wright, Nevaldo Fleurs, Marnus Potgieter.

Referee: Craig Evans (WRU).

ULSTER: Michael Lowry; Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle; Ian Madigan, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, John Andrew, Marty Moore; Alan O’Connor (capt), Sam Carter; Nick Timoney, Jordi Murphy, Duane Vermeulen.

Replacements: Declan Moore, Andy Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Frank Bradshaw-Ryan, Marcus Rea, Dave Shanahan, Billy Burns, Aaron Sexton.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times