Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose reunited for Exeter
Jonathan Sexton also returns for Leinster’s daunting Champions Cup assignment
Johnny Sexton starts for Leinster against Exeter. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
European Champions Cup, Exeter Chiefs v Leinster, Sandy Park, Sunday, 5.30pm (BT Sport 2)
Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose’s midfield partnership can finally resume as Leinster take on Exeter in the Champions Cup on Sunday.
Henshaw has recovered from a hamstring injury he picked up ahead of Ireland’s final November Test against Argentina.
Meanwhile Ringrose, who was a long-term absentee, came through his return to action in last weekend’s 36-10 win over Benetton Treviso.
Leo Cullen has been able to recall a host of internationals as his side take on the high-flying English Premiership side with top spot in Pool Three on the line.
Among them, Jonathan Sexton takes the number 10 jersey, with Luke McGrath joining him in the halfbacks.
Rob Kearney enjoyed an impressive autumn for Ireland and he starts at fullback, with Fergus McFadden and Isa Nacewa on the wnigs.
Leinster also pack a punch up front, with Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and Tadhg Furlong making up a formidable frontrow.
Devin Toner returns at lock alongside Scott Fardy, while Rhys Ruddock, Seán O’Brien and Jack Conan form a backrow full of ball-carrying ballast.
Asked if this was his strongest selection of the season, Cullen said: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
“We think we had a strong team last week as well. One of the thing’s we’ve tried to work on is to build as much depth as we can over the last couple of seasons.
“A lot of young lads come in, which creates a very competitive environment. A lot of lads are going to miss out this week, there’s been a lot of tough decisions for us as coaches. But if you want to be challenging and be successful you need that level of depth these days.
“We think we’ve a decent team, Exeter have a strong squad as well. We’ve seen them over the last number of seasons, looked at them very closely over the last couple of months.
“They’re a very efficient team. We need to be good this week if we want to have a chance of getting a positive result this weekend.”
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Isa Nacewa (capt); Jonathan Sexton, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan.
Replacements: James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Michael Bent, James Ryan, Josh van der Flier; Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Jordan Larmour.
EXETER CHIEFS: Phil Dollman; James Short, Henry Slade, Ian Whitten, Olly Woodburn; Gareth Steenson (capt), Nic White; Alec Hepburn, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Harry Williams, Mitch Lees, Jonny Hill, Don Armand, Matt Kvesic, Tom Waldrom.
Replacements: Jack Yeandle, Ben Moon, Tom Francis, Sam Skinner, Sam Simmonds, Will Chudley, Sam Hill, Jack Nowell