Champions Cup teams: Johnny Sexton starts for Leinster

See how the four provinces line up ahead of the final weekend of European pool action

Johnny Sexton captains Leinster away to Bath. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Johnny Sexton captains Leinster away to Bath. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

 

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has “freshened up” the team making, four changes to the starting side that hammered Montpellier for the Champions Cup clash against Bath at the Rec on Saturday (1pm kick-off).

Lions and Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw returns to the midfield, while Ireland captain Johnny Sexton and Luke McGrath come in at halfback. Ciarán Frawley, Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park drop to the replacements.

There is only one alteration to the pack, Michael Ala’alatoa replacing the injured Tadhg Furlong. Josh Murphy, a late replacement for James Ryan the last day, retains his place in the secondrow. Rhys Ruddock was ill and missed training in the early part of the week, he drops out of the matchday 23 as does James Lowe, who picked up a leg strain in training on Tuesday.

The prognosis is that Lowe will be sidelined for a couple of weeks. James Ryan could have played at a pinch but there was little point in risking him while Cullen pointed out that Furlong should be good to go when he joins up with the Ireland squad next week. Vakh Abdaladze and Ryan Baird are promoted to the replacements.

Cullen explained: “James (Lowe) came on at half time at the weekend against Montpellier. He trained on Tuesday and picked up a niggle on that day. It was very unfortunate, he has a strain so will be out for a few weeks.

“James (Ryan) could have been touch-and-go but we were happy with how Ross (Molony) and Josh (Murphy) went last week. Rhys Ruddock had been sick and missed the early part of this week. The sensible decision was to not push anything this week so he (James Ryan) is okay, probably could have pushed him for this week but we made the decision early.

“Tadhg (Furlong) doesn’t seem to be too bad, so hopefully he’ll be up and running for round one of the Six Nations. Ireland will be going to camp next week, and he should be good to go hopefully, barring any setbacks.”

Ulster’s Dan McFarland has made two changes for the visit of Clermont Auvergne to the Kingspan stadium on Saturday afternoon (5.30pm kick-off). Eric O’Sullivan comes in at loosehead prop for Andy Warwick (concussion) with a fit again Jack McGrath named among the replacements having missed the Northampton Saints game.

Former Ireland Under-20 international Angus Curtis replaces Stewart Moore at inside centre with the latter ruled out through injury after an excellent display last weekend. Bradley Roberts is fit again following injury and is named among the replacements.

Connacht coach Andy Friend has made six changes to the side that lost to the Leicester Tigers for Sunday’s game against Stade Francais in Paris. Top try scorer and Ireland squad member Mack Hansen returns after injury while Alex Wootton is named on the right wing as John Porch and Matt Healy drop out of the team and won’t travel to Paris.

Tom Farrell comes in at outside centre, Sammy Arnold shifts in one place with Bundee Aki rested. Caolin Blade replaces Kieran Marmion, the latter excellent last week with Colm Reilly on the bench. There are two changes in the pack, both at prop, Jordan Duggan at loosehead and Lansdowne’s Greg McGrath set to win a second cap.

The bench contains two uncapped players in former Ireland Under-20 internationals Charlie Ward and Sam Illo, who learned their rugby at Clontarf and Old Wesley respectively.

Friend said: “For us we’re not thinking about results elsewhere. All we’re focused on is going to Paris, taking what we learned from last week and hopefully finishing our pool stage on a high. If we can do that then we can celebrate a great achievement of reaching knockout rugby in this competition.

“With dry weather and their 4G pitch it’s looking like it’ll be a fast-tempo game, so we’ve selected a side that reflects that.”

The final province into action in Europe this weekend is Munster who host Wasps at Thomond Park on Sunday afternoon (3.15pm kick-off).

Munster’s Johann van Graan has made three changes to the side that beat Castres. Ben Healy replaces Jack Crowley at outhalf with the latter dropping down to the bench. Diarmuid Barron, who came on for the injured Niall Scannell last week, wins the starting role with academy prospect Scott Buckley named among the replacements.

Jean Kleyn is named in the starting team with Fineen Wycherley dropping to the bench, alongside Simon Zebo, who returns to the matchday squad.

Leinster: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J O’Brien; J Sexton, L McGrath; A Porter, R Kelleher, M Ala’alatoa; R Molony, J Murphy; C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan.

Replacements: D Sheehan, C Healy, V Abdaladze, R Baird, M Deegan, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, C Frawley.

Ulster: M Lowry: R Baloucoune, J Hume, A Curtis, E McIlroy; B Burns, N Doak; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor (capt), K Treadwell; M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: B Roberts, J McGrath, T O’Toole, S Carter, G Jones, D Shanahan, B Moxham, C Gilroy.

Connacht: T O’Halloran: A Wootton, T Farrell, S Arnold, M Hansen; J Carty (capt), C Blade; J Duggan, S Delahunt; G McGrath; O Dowling; N Murray, C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler.

Replacements: D Heffernan, C Ward, S Illo, L Fifita, P Boyle, C Reilly, C Fitzgerald, D Kilgallen.

Munster: M Haley; A Conway, C Farrell, R Scannell, K Earls; B Healy, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Barron, S Archer; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O’Mahony (capt), J O’Donoghue, G Coombes.

Replacements: S Buckley, J Loughman, J Ryan, F Wycherley, J Hodnett, C Casey, J Crowley, S Zebo.

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