Leinster vs Cardiff, Saturday January 28th, RDS, 5.05pm kick-off, live on RTÉ
Will Connors is set for a long-awaited return from injury during Leinster’s URC clash with Cardiff on Saturday night. The backrow forward, sidelined since Leinster’s victory over the Sharks back in October, has been named on the bench by Leo Cullen.
In the starting XV, Leinster have opted predominantly for youth in the backline. Luke McGrath partners Harry Byrne at halfback, with Ben Brownlee and Liam Turner outside them in the centres. In the backthree, Dave Kearney is the lone experienced head as Max O’Reilly starts on the opposite flank with Chris Cosgrave at fullback.
In the forwards, Rhys Ruddock captains the side in a backrow that also features Scott Penny - his 50th appearance for the province - and Max Deegan. Brian Deeny, who made his European debut against Gloucester a fortnight ago, is at lock next to Ross Molony, with Michael Milne, John McKee and Michael Ala’alatoa in the frontrow.
James Culhane and former Ireland U20 flyer Aitzol King are set for debuts off the bench, with Charlie Tector providing the outhalf cover.
Leinster: Chris Cosgrave; Max O’Reilly, Liam Turner, Ben Brownlee, Dave Kearney; Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath; Michael Milne, John McKee, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ross Molony, Brian Deeny; Rhys Ruddock (capt), Scott Penny, Max Deegan.
Replacements: Tadgh McElroy, Marcus Hanan, Thomas Clarkson, James Culhane, Will Connors, Nick McCarthy, Charlie Tector, Aitzol King.
Benetton vs Munster, Saturday January 28th, Stadio Monigo, 2.30pm kick-off, live on TG4
Both Joey Carbery and Ben Healy are in the matchday squad for Munster for their trip to Italy to take on Benetton. Carbery continues to take up the starting outhalf role since his omission from Ireland’s Six Nations squad, while Ben Healy has been released from Scotland camp to take up a spot on the bench given the game falls outside the international window.
It is Carbery’s 50th appearance in a Munster shirt.
Elsewhere, Fineen Wycherley makes his first appearance in almost four months after recovering from a shoulder injury. He is one of a number of changes from last week’s defeat to Toulouse, with Liam Coombes, Malakai Fekitoa and Paddy Patterson coming into the backline and Josh Wycherley, Roman Salanoa, Jack O’Sullivan and Alex Kendellen joining the pack.
John Ryan misses out for family reasons, meaning the prop has played his final game for the province before linking up with the Chiefs in New Zealand.
In the absence of Peter O’Mahony (Six Nations duty) and Jack O’Donoghue (suspended), Niall Scannell captains the side.
Academy forwards Mark Donnelly, Cian Hurley and Ruadhan Quinn are named among the replacements. Donnelly is set for his first appearance of the campaign while 19-year-old Quinn, an exciting prospect in Ireland’s U20 Six Nations squad, earns the chance for more caps after becoming Munster’s youngest player when he lined out against Zebre in October.
Munster: Shane Daly; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Malakai Fekitoa, Liam Coombes; Joey Carbery, Paddy Patterson; Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell (capt), Roman Salanoa; Jean Kleyn, Fineen Wycherley; Jack O’Sullivan, John Hodnett, Alex Kendellen.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Mark Donnelly, Stephen Archer, Cian Hurley, Ruadhan Quinn, Neil Cronin, Ben Healy, Rory Scannell.
Connacht vs Emirates Lions, Saturday January 28th, The Sportsground, 7.35pm kick-off, live on TG4
Jack Carty returns to the Connacht starting lineup having missed last weekend’s Challenge Cup defeat to Newcastle. The Ireland international needs seven points on Saturday evening to overhaul Eric Elwood as the province’s leading scorer.
With Mack Hansen away in Ireland camp, Tiernan O’Halloran starts at fullback while Cathal Forde remains the first choice inside centre - Bundee Aki’s presence in Andy Farrell’s squads postpones questions on his absence for the time being.
Tom Farrell partners Forde in midfield while Diarmuid Kilgallen and John Porch are on the wing.
In the forwards, Jack Aungier starts at tighthead with Ireland regular Finlay Bealham on Ireland duty. Peter Dooley and Shane Delahunt are next to him in the frontrow with the Murray brothers, Darragh and Niall, reunited behind them at lock. Josh Murphy, Conor Oliver and Jarrad Butler are in the backrow.
“Tomorrow marks the end of a long block of games for us and one we want to finish on a high,” said Andy Friend on the clash with the Lions. “If we get the win we head into the next block well in the running for a playoff spot – while achieving our aim of reaching the Challenge Cup knockouts – so it’s not a bad spot to be in.
“We’re fully aware however that we need a win tomorrow to put ourselves in that position. The Lions are a formidable outfit and have improved even more since their first season last year, so we know a difficult challenge awaits us.”
Connacht: Tiernan O’Halloran; Diarmuid Kilgallen, Tom Farrell, Cathal Forde, John Porch; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Peter Dooley, Shane Delahunt, Jack Aungier; Darragh Murray, Niall Murray; Josh Murphy, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler.
Replacements: Dylan Tierney-Martin, Jordan Duggan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Leva Fifita, Shamus Hurley-Langton, Kieran Marmion, Tom Daly, Oran McNulty.