Leo Cullen explains Leinster selections as Sexton and Lowe start on bench

Drogheda teenager Karl Martin named at inside centre on the Montpellier team

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen  has explained his team selection for this weekend’s Champions Cup clash against Montpellier. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has explained his team selection for this weekend’s Champions Cup clash against Montpellier. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

 

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will start on the bench for Leinster in Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup pool match against Montpellier at the RDS (1.0). There are no doubts surrounding Sexton’s fitness and he is good to go when required. Ross Byrne will form a halfback partnership with Jamison Gibson-Park.

Robbie Henshaw is a notable absentee with Ciarán Frawley partnering Garry Ringrose in midfield. James Lowe is also in the replacements with Jimmy O’Brien, who has primarily played centre or fullback, included on the left wing. Jack Conan returns from injury having missed the victory over Bath last month.

Sexton has not played since damaging a leg in Ireland’s victory over New Zealand during the Autumn Nations series in November. Leinster had a couple of Covid-19 cases that likely impacted on head coach Leo Cullen’s selection.

James Ryan will captain a team that show just three changes to the starting line-up from that win over Bath on December 11th - the last match played by the province - with O’Brien replacing Lowe, Ryan in for Ryan Baird and Conan at number eight with Caelan Doris switching to blindside flanker in place of Rhys Ruddock; the latter is set to make his 50th appearance in the tournament.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen confirmed that Henshaw and Baird trained for the first time this week today, were fully fit and would be available for selection for the final pool match against Bath tomorrow week.

He explained the decision behind opting for O’Brien over Lowe. “James (Lowe) had a knock so he was a bit more affected training wise over the last couple of weeks and Jimmy (O’Brien) has gone well in training so that is the logic there.”

One familiar face in the Montpellier ranks is Drogheda born Karl Martin, has been named at inside centre. The 19-year-old former Irish underage international signed a professional contract with the club last summer that will keep him there until 2023.

A member of the Leinster sub academy, he was highly regarded in the province and certainly didn’t want to lose the talented, six foot two inch centre, but he accepted an offer to join the Montpellier academy.

A product of Boyne RFC, a club in which Ireland and Lions centre cum wing Shane Horgan grew up playing rugby, he is following in the footsteps of another of Drogheda’s finest rugby exports, the current Lansdowne head coach and former Irish international Mark McHugh, who played two seasons with Montpellier (2007-2009).

Leinster: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, C Frawley, J O’Brien; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; R Molony, J Ryan (capt); C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan. Replacements: D Sheehan, C Healy, M Ala’alatoa, R Ruddock, M Deegan, L McGrath, J Sexton, J Lowe.

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