James Ryan will captain a side featuring 14 of the 18 Leinster players who featured for Ireland in their Grand Slam campaign, when the play Ulster in the Round of 16 of the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday evening in a sold-out Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5:30pm – live on RTÉ2, BT Sport 4 and RTÉ Radio).
In addition to Garry Ringrose and Ronan Kelleher, who were sidelined for the final game against England a fortnight ago, and Johnny Sexton, Caelan Doris has also been ruled out of this last-16 tie after suffering a head knock in that Grand Slam coronation.
Hugo Keenan, who also suffered a head injury against England, has completed his return to play protocols and will start at full-back, with Jordan Larmour and James Lowe named on the wings.
Jimmy O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw form the centre partnership for the first time, while Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park complete the back line.
Tadhg Furlong makes his first European appearance of the season. He is joined in the front row by Andrew Porter and Dan Sheehan.
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Ryan is partnered in the second row by Ross Molony. This season’s leading Heineken Champions Cup try scorer Josh van der Flier is in the back-row alongside Ryan Baird and Jack Conan.
On the bench, hooker John McKee is in line to make his European debut.
“These selections are always difficult, if you have a chunk of players that are away on Six Nations duty, then you’re trying to get everyone back together,” Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said.
“It’s a difficult selection, we’ve talked about it in the past, but the attitude of the guys has been fantastic. There were a good chunk of guys who played a couple of weeks ago in the England game. we had a group that represented well in the Stormers game last Friday, so it’s about merging those two together.
“This week is about making sure we’re doing everything we can, to have a collective understanding of what it is we want to do, and be clear of the threats that Ulster will bring as well. Ulster are a good, cohesive group. Some of their selections over the last which have been consistent. It’s going to be a good test.
“The Champions Cup is a special competition with the South African teams, it’s just another layer if you’re looking at the fixtures, it’s amazing. Because of the derby factor on top of that, you can think back to some of those games over the years, whether it’s Leinster-Ulster, or Ulster-Munster, the different dynamics that have played out, they’re hugely exciting games.
“Our last game together was here against Racing, so we’re ten weeks on, here we are back again. It’s a really exciting game and it’s great to see the level of interest, which just adds another layer of excitement.”
His returning Irish players enjoyed three days off after beating England before returning to the squad’s HPC in UCD and Cullen said: “No, I think it’s important you celebrate. It’s such a historic moment to win a Grand Slam in front of their home support. It was an amazing day, to see what it means to the crowd, the players, and the work they put in. It’s an amazing reward.
“I can’t fault the attitude, they’ve been all excellent.”
The Leinster head coach also revealed that Doris was ruled out due to being unwell rather than as a result of that head knock.
“Caelan was sick at the start of the week, so that’s what ruled him out but he’s come through OK. Garry should be OK to go next week.... if there is a next week.”
The trio of Ulster players who finished the English game as replacements are all named in their pack, namely Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole and Kieran Treadwell.
The latter’s second-row partner Alan O’Connor captains the side. Ulster Academy product Dave McCann starts at blindside flanker alongside Nick Timoney and Springbok Duane Vermeulen. Scottish loose-head Rory Sutherland also returns to the side.
[ Gordon D’Arcy: Ulster need to iron out performance wrinkles if they are to stand a chance against Leinster ]
Behind the pack, the in-form Nathan Doak keeps the 9 jersey with Billy Burns returning alongside at outhalf.
Another Ireland international returns in the form of Stuart McCloskey, who started the first three games of the Grand Slam campaign, alongside James Hume.
The back three remains unchanged from last week’s win over the Bulls, Ulster’s third in a row, namely Jacob Stockdale, Michael Lowry and Rob Baloucoune.
Dan McFarland can call upon an experienced bench with last week’s hat-trick hero Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Harry Sheridan, and Marcus Rea covering the forwards. John Cooney, Stewart Moore and Ben Moxham provide the backline options for the province.
Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Jimmy O’Brien, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan (capt), Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements: John McKee, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Jason Jenkins, Scott Penny, Luke McGrath, Harry Byrne, Ciarán Frawley.
Ulster: Michael Lowry; Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale; Billy Burns, Nathan Doak; Rory Sutherland, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor (Captain), Kieran Treadwell, Dave McCann, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen. Replacements: Tom Stewart, Eric O’Sullivan, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Harry Sheridan, Marcus Rea, John Cooney, Stewart Moore, Ben Moxham
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU).
RG Snyman will make his Champions Cup debut for Munster in their round of 16 clash against the Sharks at King’s Park (12.30pm Irish time/1.30pm local, live on BT Sport).
The Springboks’ World Cup-winning lock makes his first start for Munster since his debut in August 2020 after featuring off the bench twice since returning from a long-term injury.
There are five changes, in total, to the side that were beaten by Glasgow Warriors last weekend and two positional switches, with Antoine Frisch, Craig Casey, Niall Scannell and captain Peter O’Mahony also coming into the side.
Casey starts ahead of Conor Murray, who is on the bench and, notably, Jack Crowley is moved from midfield to start at outhalf, with Joey Carbery also named among the replacements, where there is a 6-2 split.
Fullback Mike Haley, Calvin Nash and Shane Daly start in an unchanged back three. Malakai Fekitoa moves to inside centre with Frisch in at ‘13′ after missing out last week due to injury.
Dave Kilcoyne, Scannell and Roman Salanoa pack down in the frontrow with Jean Kleyn and Snyman in the secondrow. O’Mahony starts on his return from international duty with John Hodnett and Gavin Coombes completing the starting XV.
Paddy Patterson sustained a knee injury at training and was unavailable for selection.
The Sharks have named a strong side featuring their quintet of Springboks’ World Cup winners, Lukhanyo Am, Makazola Mapimpi, Bongi Mbonambi, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi, as well as former Munster player Gerbrandt Grobler.
Munster: Mike Haley; Calvin Nash, Antoine Frisch, Malakai Fekitoa, Shane Daly; Jack Crowley, Craig Casey; Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell, Roman Salanoa; Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman; Peter O’Mahony (C), John Hodnett, Gavin Coombes.
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Josh Wycherley, Stephen Archer, Fineen Wycherley, Jack O’Donoghue, Conor Murray, Joey Carbery, Alex Kendellen.
Sharks: Boeta Chamberlain; Werner Kok, Lukhanyo Am, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Makazola Mapimpi; Curwin Bosch, Jaden Hendrikse; Ox Nché, Bongi Mbonambi, Thomas du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Gerbrandt Grobler, Siya Kolisi (capt), Vincent Tshituka, Sikumbuzo Notshe.
Replacements: Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Carlu Sadie, Emile van Heerden, Phendulani Buthelezi, Grant Williams, Ben Tapuai, Thaakir Abrahams.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).