McGrath and Lowe set to miss out for Leinster against Scarlets

Keith Earls in line to make unexpected return for Munster’s clash with Racing

Luke McGrath is expected to be ruled out of Leinster's line-up for their European Champions Cup semi-final against the Scarlets on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 3.30pm) due to the knee injury he suffered late on in the quarter-final win over Saracens, and the ripple effect is likely to see James Lowe miss out.

Due to the vexed law limiting teams to only two non-EU passport holding players, Leinster can only pick two from the Kiwi pair of Jamison Gibson-Park and Lowe, and Australian Scott Fardy. McGrath's absence means Gibson-Park will start, and with their backrow options more restricted due to injuries to Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan and Seán O'Brien, Leinster are expected to retain Fardy at blindside, where he played against Saracens. So it is that Lowe will be forced to sit in the stands.

Under EU trade law, South Africans and Pacific Island players are exempt from the ruling, and so too are overseas players with European passports or, in the case of Isa Nacewa, who have been resident for three years or more.

Robbie Henshaw, having returned to training this week after recovering from the shoulder injury he sustained in the act of scoring a try against Scotland in round two of the Six Nations, is expected to play his first game in 10 weeks alongside Garry Ringrose.


Stuart Lancaster gave the strongest of indications that Henshaw would return last Monday. "Robbie's in better condition than I've ever seen him. He's achieved his quickest speeds, he's done his best fitness test, he looks lean and fit. He's such a good player, and he's been in every meeting. I'm absolutely certain he'll be up to speed."

This would mean Nacewa reverting to the wing in the absence of Lowe.

The Leinster pack is expected to be unchanged from the quarter-final, with Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and Tadhg Furlong in the frontrow; Devin Toner and James Ryan in the secondrow; and Dan Leavy and Jordi Murphy alongside Fardy in the backrow. Fergus McFadden is exoected to get the nod on the right wing despite the availability of Jordan Larmour, who missed the quarter-final with a calf injury. Larmour trained fully this week after his comeback in the defeat to Benetton but looks set to be nemed on the bench.

Perhaps contrary to general belief, the Aviva semi-final is not a sell-out. With EPCR overseeing the game from their base in Neuchâtel in Switzerland, ticket sales had reached about 46,000 yesterday, leaving another 5,000 or so remaining on Ticketmaster.

As with Henshaw, Keith Earls has reportedly trained fully this week and is line for an unexpectedly swift return to the Munster starting line-up to face Racing 92 in Bordeaux's Stade Chaban Delmas (kick-off 4.15pm local time/3.15 Irish) after sustaining his knee injury in the Grand Slam win over England at Twickenham five weeks ago.

As it makes more sense to start Earls than spring him from the bench, this could lead to Simon Zebo surprisingly being named among the replacements, with Andrew Conway, match-winner against Toulon, starting at fullback and Alex Wootton retained on the other wing. Hampered by hamstring and hip injuries he picked up against Edinburgh and Toulon, and hauled off seven minutes into the second half against the Cheetahs, Zebo has completed 80 minutes since February 23rd. Even so, it would be a very big call.

Jack O’Donoghue wore a protective boot earlier this week as a precautionary measure for the ankle injury he sustained against the Cheetahs, but is expected to start, in what would otherwise be an unchanged pack and team from that which kicked off against Toulon.

Furthermore, James Cronin is expected to have recovered the stinger/shoulder injury he sustained against the Southern Kings, and James Hart is observing the return-to-play protocols, which have been helped by the nine-day turnaround.

LEINSTER (v Scarlets possible): Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Rob Henshaw, Isa Nacewa; Johnny Sexton, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Seán Cronin, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, James Ryan; Scott Fardy, Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy.

Replacements: James Tracy, Jack McGrath, Andrew Porter, Ross Molony, Max Deegan, Nick McCarthy, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour.

MUNSTER (v Racing, possible): Andrew Conway; Keith Earls, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Rhys Marshall, Stephen Archer; Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland; Peter O'Mahony, Jack O'Donoghue, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Niall Scannell, James Cronin John Ryan, Gerbrandt Grobler, Robin Copeland, James Hart, JJ Hanrahan, Simon Zebo.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times