Matt O’Connor make seven changes to Leinster side for Connacht clash

Lock Aly Muldowney the only Connacht player to remain from Bayonne win

Leinster coach Matt O’Connor has made seven changes, including five in the pack, for their return to the Guinness Pro12 for Friday night’s interpro clash with Connacht at the RDS (7.35pm).

Dave Kearney returns from injury and is named on the left wing, bringing to an end a run of 13 games straight for Darragh Fanning since the start of the season in which he has played every minute.

The other change in the backs from the one-point win over Harlequins sees Noel Reid come in at inside centre to join Luke Fitzgerald, with Ian Madigan, man of the match from the Aviva, rested from the matchday 23.

There pack sees a completely new frontrow of Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon and Tadhg Furlong, with the secondrow remaining the same.

Shane Jennings returns from injury to win his 201st Leinster cap at openside, while Kevin McLaughlin starts at blindside flanker. Jamie Heaslip captains the side from number eight.

On the bench 22-year-old Cheetahs tighthead Maks Van Dyke is in line to make his first appearance for Leinster having signed last week on a short-term contract. He joins a strong bench that includes four Irish internationals.

Lock Aly Muldowney is the sole player remaining named by Pat Lam from Conacht's 29-27 win over Bayonne in France last weekend.

Centre Robbie Henshaw returns to action following his involvement for Ireland in the autumn and he forms an exciting midfield partnership with Bundee Aki, who starts in his preferred position of inside centre for the first time.

Mils Muliaina is named at fullback in a back three with Danie Poolman and Matt Healy. Jack Carty returns at outhalf for his first game at the RDS while Kieran Marmion, who scored Connacht's try at the Dublin venue last year, resumes duties at scrumhalf.

Up front, John Muldoon will captain the side from a backrow featuring Eoin McKeon and George Naoupu. On-loan lock Quinn Roux partners Muldowney in the secondrow behind the frontrow trio of Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney and Rodney Ah You.

The most notable inclusion on the bench is Academy forward Ultan Dillane. Following a string of impressive performances for the Connacht Eagles, the 21-year-old lock from Tralee is in line to make his Connacht debut. With the injury to Ian Porter and unavailability of John Cooney, last week's double try scorer Caolin Blade has also been named amongst the replacements.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, Lam said: “Despite the six-day turnaround and tough 12 hour trips to and from France, we were able to have a good week’s preparation due to the use of all our squad over the last three weeks. This was vital as we prepare for one of the biggest challenges of our season against the defending champions stacked with quality players and in a venue where we have never won.”

LEINSTER (v Connacht, RDS, Friday, 7.35pm): Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Luke Fitzgerald, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Michael Bent, Aaron Dundon, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, Kane Douglas; Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Seán Cronin, Jack McGrath, Maks Van Dyk, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Cathal Marsh, Gordon D'Arcy.

CONNACHT: Mils Muliaina; Danie Poolman, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Matt Healy; Jack Carty, Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Rodney Ah You; Quinn Roux, Aly Muldowney; John Muldoon (capt), Eoin McKeon; George Naoupu.

Replacements: Dave Heffernan, Ronan Loughney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, Willie Faloon, Caolin Blade, Craig Ronaldson, Darragh Leader.

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