Leinster ring the changes for trip to Connacht
Home side hoping to build upon last-gasp victory over Connacht
Jack Conan in action against Pierre Bourgarit of La Rochelle during the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final. The Lions squad member will start for Leinster at the Sportsground. Photograph: Dave Winter/Inpho
Connacht v Leinster, Sportsground (7.35, live on Eir Sport, TG4)
Andrew Porter and Jack Conan are selected in the team which shows wholesale changes from the side that lost the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final to La Rochelle, while Tadhg Furlong is among the replacements.
Conan is the only survivor in the starting pack from the game in France, while Cian Kelleher, Dave Kearney and Ciaran Frawley come into the backline. The visitors possess a strong bench highlighted by the presence of established internationals Furlong, Josh van der Flier and Jordan Larmour.
Connacht head coach Andy Friend will be looking for his team to build on a last -gasp victory over Ulster in Belfast in the opening round of the tournament. There are five changes to the starting team from that game and the home side’s chances will be boosted by a number of players returning from injury including number eight and captain Jarrad Butler.
The Australian has been absent for the last couple of months through injury and suspension while Sammy Arnold, named on the bench, is back after a 16 week absence following chest surgery. Peter Sullivan, who scored the match -winning try against Ulster and outhalf Conor Fitzgerald are both rewarded with starting roles.
Connacht’s all-time record try scorer Matt Healy makes his 150th appearance while Tom Daly and academy prospect Sean O’Brien are paired together in the centre for the fifth consecutive game. Abraham Papali’i is a genuine impact replacement, while Oran McNulty’s performances in the past for the Ireland Under-20 team mark him as an excellent prospect.
The home side brought Leinster’s 26-match winning streak to an end with a rare victory in the RDS in January and will be hoping to replicate the quality and application of that performance. Leinster, who have lost their last couple of matches against Munster (Rainbow Cup) and La Rochelle (Champions Cup), should relish an outlet to expunge that disappointment.
They start as nine-point favourites with the bookmakers presumably on the basis that there will be a positive reaction but the contest might be a little closer than that forecast.
Connacht: J Porch; P Sullivan, S O’Brien, T Daly, M Healy; C Fitzgerald, C Blade; D Buckley, D Heffernan, F Bealham; N Murray, G Thornbury; E Masterson, C Oliver, J Butler. Replacements: J Murphy, M Burke, D Robertson-McCoy, C Prendergast, A Papali’i, K Marmion, S Arnold, O McNulty.
Leinster: H Keenan; C Kelleher, G Ringrose, C Frawley, D Kearney; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); P Dooley, J Tracy, A Porter; R Molony, S Fardy; J Murphy, S Penny, J Conan. Replacements: D Sheehan, E Byrne, T Furlong, R Baird, J van der Flier, R Osborne, R O’Loughlin, J Larmour.
Referee: F Murphy (IRFU)