Leo Cullen has radically revamped his team and replacements for tomorrow's Guinness Pro12 derby against Ulster at the RDS with the return of Rob Kearney amongst eight changes in personnel to the starting team, and a further six changes on the bench.
Kearney, Zane Kirchner (who will make his 50 appearance for the province) and Ian Madigan are all restored, with Luke Fitzgerald switching to the left wing in a new back three, while Luke McGrath also starts after his impressive cameo off the bench in the defeat to Bath last Saturday.
Isa Nacewa, having “pushed himself back for last week’s game” is rested, as is Fergus McFadden, who was “a bit bashed around last week” according to Cullen and likewise Dave Kearney. “Those guys are not too bad. We’re just trying to manage guys as nest we possibly can over the next stretch of games.”
There also four changes up front, with Jack McGrath and Tadgh Furlong replacing Cian Healy and Mike Ross, neither of whom are in the 23, after last weekend's scrum carnage, while McCarthy returns after being ruled out of the Bath game with concussion. Josh van der Flier, a try-scorer on within five minutes of his European debut off the bench, starts ahead of Jordi Murphy.
In contrast to McCarthy, Sean O’Brien and Richardt Strauss are still sidelined, although Cullen said “they have had some good treatment” for the concussion they suffered in the defeat to Wasps and which ruled them out of the Bath defeat, “so at least we’re on course in terms of rehabbing those guys back.”
Kearney, who was sidelined for the European Champions Cup defeats to Wasps and Bath with a hamstring strain he picked up in the League win over the Scarlets, admitted: “It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks for me but not as frustrating as for the guys who have been involved. It’s always tough watching from the lines, but I suppose now I have some responsibility now to bring a bit of energy and contribute to getting this team back to winning ways.”
“There is a little bit more in those derby games and we have to think about the last time we played out here as well and what happened there. We owe our fans a little bit in terms of a performance. Last week was a big improvement, given what had happened the week before. We didn’t get the result but hopefully we can building things from last week and get a result, it will put the ship back on course.”
“Things at the top of that league are very tight and if you can manage to pick up four points, it can have a big a standing in the league, you go to third or if you lose you can find yourself in seventh very quickly.”
Disappointed at their plight in Europe after starting with back to back defeats for the first time since 1996, Leinster have to re-focus on the League, where their poor showing last year contributed to their difficult draw in the Champions Cup.
“We’ve no choice,” said Kearney. “It was the first thing that Leo said to us on Monday morning. We reviewed the game, we looked back, picked up the things that we could improve on, and it was just a very clear focus. We’re all about the league now, and that has to be the case.”
“There is a bit of pressure on us to perform tomorrow ad guys are really excited. It’s been a difficult week, training has been interesting at times but there is a huge amount of desire there to put things right.”
Meanwhile Ulster's Ruan Pienaar is set to hit a milestone of his own on Friday as he picks up his 100th cap.
Les Kiss has made four changes in total from the Ulster side which were soundly beaten by Saracens at Ravenhill last weekend.
There are three changes in the pack, with Kyle McCall, Robbie Diack and Sean Reidy all starting, while in the backline Peter Nelson starts at fullback.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Ben Te'o, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald, Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath, Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: James Tracy, Peter Dooley, Martin Moore, Ross Molony, Dominic Ryan, Eoin Reddan, Noel Reid, Garry Ringrose
Ulster: Peter Nelson, Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar, Kyle McCall, Rory Best, Wiehahn Herbst, Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Ricky Lutton, Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Louis Ludik.