Andrew Porter reverts to loosehead for clash with Currie Cup champions

Johnny Sexton and Ringrose start opening match of United Rugby Championship

Andrew Porter starts at loosehead prop for Leinster’s opening match of the United Rugby Championship at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Andrew Porter starts at loosehead prop for Leinster’s opening match of the United Rugby Championship at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Andrew Porter reverts to loosehead prop for the first time since November 2016 in a revamped frontrow which also features a competitive Leinster debut for Samoan World Cup prop Michael Ala’alatoa for their opening match of the United Rugby Championship at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm, live on TG4, Premier Sports and URC TV).

Missing out on both the Lions tour and the Irish summer tests means that re-instated captain Johnny Sexton and Garry Ringrose can hit the ground running, as can the fit-again Rhys Ruddock and James Lowe, who also missed last season’s run-in.

Although Leinster will be without their quartet of Lions for the early rounds - Robbie Henshaw, Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong and Ronan Kelleher - Leo Cullen could still name a strong side for this encounter against the recently crowned Currie Cup champions.

Four players who were involved in the summer tests against Japan and the USA - Hugo Keenan, James Ryan, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris - are also named in the starting line-up, with another trio on the bench, Ed Byrne, Ryan Baird and Jamison Gibson-Park.

Also among the replacements is Cian Healy, who is covering tighthead for the first time in his career after switching there on foot of Porter reverting to loosehead, while the fit-again Max Deegan will make his first competitive appearance for the province since October 2020 when he is introduced.

In reality

Regarding the switch between Porter and Healy, Cullen said: “It has been in our thoughts for a while really. Andrew initially came through as a loosehead and it is something he has done in Irish camp as well.

“They are pretty open minded the two lads and it has gone well from a training point of view so now we will get to see it in a proper test environment, against the Bulls. So, I am looking forward to seeing what it looks like in reality.

“For Cian, playing tighthead is a big ask but that is the mindset of both these fellas. They are keen to do it, and also with some of the resources we have, if Andrew wanted to move to loosehead, or certainly try out, we needed a little more cover at tighthead. Vakh Abdalaze has obviously come back from a long-standing back injury, so it was great to see him playing two weeks ago.

“So the guys have a remarkable mindset, Andrew and Cian in particular. They have certain similarities although they are different characters. They have really focussed on this over the course of pre-season. We were talking about playing Cian (at tighthead) in that Harlequins game but the way it unfolded . . . but we are looking forward to seeing how the lads go.”

Cullen and Leinster appear ready to give this experiment plenty of time with a view to making it permanent, while retaining the ability of Porter and Healy to switch between roles.

“We have a block of five games and I watched the Lions and that was the thing that intrigued me the most how Trevor Nyakane played tighthead in the first Test and then at loosehead in the second Test and the impact he made. There is no reason in my mind why the two lads can’t have a similar impact. They have that ability. They don’t get bogged down unnecessarily. They don’t get overawed by challenges. If anything they embrace that challenge.

“Not so much for Andrew - he is a loosehead, he is a converted tighthead. We went through the process of being open minded and seeing what it looks like and we have seen a fair amount over the course of pre-season which gives us confidence that we can persist with it for a period. Cian, it is probably more of a challenge for him than it is for Andrew. It is probably a bit more straightforward for Andrew.”

Debut

Bulls’ director of rugby Jake White has given a debut to one of his World Cup winning 2007 Springboks squad in the 37-year-old Bismark du Plessis, who has joined the franchise after ending his six year stint with Montpellier.

Du Plessis is one of four changes from the match-hardened Bulls starting XV which retained their Currie Cup title with a 44-10 rout of the Sharks in the final at Loftus Versfeld just two weeks ago. The others see left-winger Madosh Tambwe, outhalf Johan Goosen and lock Walt Steenkamp called into the team.

The side will again be captained by former Ulster talisman Marcell Coetzee in a backrow also featuring the ex-Munster player Arno Botha.

“We have had some good momentum in the South African domestic scene, and we hope we can transfer that form to the Vodacom URC,” said White.

“We are in for great challenge in this quality championship against competitive opposition. To have the opportunity of facing a top side like Leinster will be the perfect opportunity to measure ourselves against one of the best sides in Europe.

“We have opted for continuity in our selection, with a team that has a good blend of youth and experience. We are confident that the inclusion of Bismarck du Plessis, whose experience is invaluable, will add great value both in our play and giving some direction as a leader.”

The game is being run at 75 per cent of the Aviva Stadium’s capacity and the Covid-19 guidelines that go with that model, and tickets for the game between the reigning URC champions and the reigning Currie Cup champions are still on sale. A crowd of around 20,000 is expected.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Rory O’Loughlin, Garry Ringrose, Ciarán Frawley, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ross Molony, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock. Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Cian Healy, Ryan Baird, Max Deegan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Jamie Osborne.

Bulls: David Kriel; Cornal Hendricks, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe; Johan Goosen, Zak Burger; Gerhard Steenekamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Mornay Smith; Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje; Marcell Coetzee (capt), Arno Botha, Elrigh Louw.

Replacements: Joe van Zyl, Simphiwe Matanzima, Jacques van Rooyen, Janko Swanepoel, Jacques du Plessis, Keagan Johannes, Chris Smith, Stedman Gans.

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