Leinster have named as strong a side as possible for their Champions Cup semi-final with Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday at 15 15.
Johnny Sexton has returned following time out with an injury and captains the team from fly-half.
Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong begin the game in the front-row, while Devin Toner and James Ryan pair up in the second-row in what is an outstanding front five.
Rhys Ruddock is at six, Sean O’Brien at seven and Jack Conan is at No 8 to make up the remainder of the pack.
Luke McGrath is back at scrum-half to partner Sexton, while Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose team up in the centre.
James Lowe starts on the left-wing, Jordan Larmour on the right, and Rob Kearney will open the game at full-back in what is a star-studded XV.
The bench is full of talent to call upon too if needed. James Tracy, Ed Byrne and Michael Bent are the front-row replacements, with Scott Fardy and Max Deegan covering the rest of the pack. Fardy’s inclusion coupled with Lowe starting means that Jamison Gibson-Park misses out. In his place is Hugh O’Sullivan, who is joined by Ross Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin among the replacements.
Scrum-half McGrath is expecting a huge game and has been impressed by Toulouse since their second of two previous meetings this season, he admitted while speaking to the Irish Times.
“Toulouse have improved as well. That quarter-final in Racing was incredibly impressive, the way they handled the red card, bringing [Sébastien] Bézy on [at scrumhalf], moving [Antoine] Dupont to ‘10’. They’re a class outfit so, it’s going to be a great challenge,” he said.
Toulouse will head into the game in a confident mood as they hope to dethrone the reigning champions in their own backyard.
Clement Castres, Peato Mauvaka and Charlie Faumuina are the front-three, with Richie Arnold and Richie Gray at four and five respectively.
Rynhard Elstadt is at blindside flanker, with Joe Tekori at openside and Jerome Kaino taking the No 8 shirt.
It’s an exciting back-line too as Sebastien Bezy and Antoine Dupont pair up in the half-backs, with Pita Ahki and Sofiane Guitoune outside them in the centre pairing.
The electric Cheslin Kolbe is at 11, with Yoann Huget at 14 and Thomas Ramos occupying the 15 jersey.
The visitors have plenty of talent on the bench with the likes of Cyril Baille, Romain Ntamack and Maxime Medard among the replacements ready to put in a shift when called upon.
Both sides are at their strongest possible and that has led to some interesting individual fights across the pitch.
James Ryan vs Richie Gray = This is one of the most exciting aspects of the game, two of the best locks around going head-to-head. Both are immense at the break-down, and leaders for their respective sides. Whoever comes out on top here will put their team on the front foot and could send their side through to the final.
Jack Conan vs Jerome Kaino = Here is a chance for Jack Conan to continue his rise to the top as he faces one of the best in the business. Conan put in a man of the match performance in the quarter-finals against Ulster and will need a similar performance to keep Kaino at bay. On the other hand, Kaino will need to keep an eye out for Conan’s ability to pick and go. This will be a seriously physical clash and these two will be key to it.
James Lowe vs Cheslin Kolbe = Yes they may be on opposite wings but they are the two sides biggest threats going forward. Lowe will face veteran Huget on his wing while Kolbe comes up against the dancing feet of Larmour. Not only will these two need to be at their best going forward but will need to be solid defensively. You can’t take your eye off either one for a second or they will tear your team apart and if the pair get going we could witness greatness on the flanks.
As both these sides look to add a record fifth European title to their name the stakes couldn’t be higher and with all the cards laid we seem set for a cracker on Sunday.
Ulster make changes for Toulouse
The Ulster match-day squad has been named for the Second Leg of the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 versus Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday evening.
Nick Timoney will make his 100th appearance for the Ulster men, as he is named to start at openside – with Marcus Rea at blindside and Duane Vermeulen at Number Eight. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead, and will pack down with Rob Herring at hooker and Marty Moore at tighthead. Captain Iain Henderson will partner with Alan O’Connor in the engine room.
Mike Lowry and Rob Baloucoune, who signed new 3-year contract extensions this week, are named at full-back and on the right wing respectively. Ethan McIlroy returns to take the left-wing starting berth. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield partnership, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are retained at scrum-half and out-half.
Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Jordi Murphy will provide forward reinforcements, while Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall and Rob Lyttle will offer back line cover.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 Second Leg, Saturday 16 April at Kingspan Stadium, 8pm kick-off, live on BT Sport, beIN Sports, and Sky Italia:
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.
Graham Rowntree Confirmed As Next Munster Head Coach
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm that Graham Rowntree will be promoted from Forwards Coach to the role of Head Coach from July 1, 2022.
Rowntree will commence the role of Head Coach at the start of the 2022/23 season after signing a two-year deal.
The former England prop made the move to Limerick in October 2019 on completion of his Rugby World Cup coaching duties with Georgia Rugby.
In his third season as Forwards Coach Graham and family have settled well into Limerick life, noting earlier this year, “I have made my thoughts about this club widely known throughout my time so far, and for me and my family it really has been an easy decision, a non-decision if truth be told.
“We’ve put down roots here and have no desire to move anywhere else.”
With an impressive coaching CV and vast experience, Rowntree previously held coaching roles with the British and Irish Lions, England Rugby, Harlequins and Leicester Tigers.
Working closely with the IRFU, the province will advance with next steps in securing the backroom team that will work with Graham from next season as Head Coach Johann van Graan, Senior Coach Stephen Larkham, and Defence Coach JP Ferreira depart the province at the end of June.
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented, “I would like to thank the Munster Professional Game Committee for their work and diligence during this process.
“It is important that Munster have someone who understands the unique history and culture of the club and has the experience to maximise the talent in the squad.
“Graham was very impressive throughout this process and demonstrated he has the capabilities to spearhead the next chapter of Munster Rugby.”
On confirmation of the promotion, Graham Rowntree added, “I am hugely honoured to be taking over the role of Head Coach for a club of this calibre, one that means so much to me and my family.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed every moment here and I fortunately get to work with an incredible group of staff and players who share a common goal each day in striving for success for this club.
“I’ve talked about our fantastic supporters before and again at the weekend we stepped off the bus to a huge red welcome in Exeter. Who doesn’t want to be part of that, that’s special!
“I believe we have the established structures in place with the resources and facilities to match and that it will be a smooth transition for the coaching ticket we assemble in ensuring continued development and success for this club.
“Before then I have a role to complete this season and working closely with Johann, Steve, and JP is the immediate focus and priority for now.”
Commenting on the appointment, Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan said, “Graham’s extensive coaching experience and knowledge for the game makes him the perfect candidate to lead this squad forward.
“With Graham stepping up at the start of the new season it will be a seamless and natural progression from the work that has been carried out to-date.
“For now, we will continue our focus on the remainder of this season with Graham supporting Johann and the coaching staff in achieving our goals.”
Munster Rugby Home Fixtures
Saturday, April 16
Champions Cup Round of 16: Munster v Exeter Chiefs, Thomond Park, 3pm; Buy tickets here
Friday, April 29
URC: Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Ulster name team for Toulouse
The Ulster match-day squad has been selected for the first leg of the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 versus Toulouse at Le Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Ben Moxham will make his first European start for Ulster as he is named on the left wing alongside Mike Lowry at full-back and Robert Baloucoune on the right wing. Stuart McCloskey comes in to start and will partner with James Hume in the centre. Billy Burns and John Cooney return to form the half-back pairing.
The front row sees Eric O’Sullivan and Rob Herring named at loosehead and hooker, with Marty Moore retaining his place at tighthead prop. Alan O’Connor returns to pair up with captain Iain Henderson in the second row. Marcus Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Nick Timoney and Duane Vermeulen retained at openside and Number Eight respectively.
Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Jordi Murphy provide the forward reinforcements on the bench. Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall and Rob Lyttle will offer the back line options.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 First Leg, Saturday 9 April at Le Stadium, 3.15pm kick-off (UK / IRE time), live on BT Sport, beIN Sports, FR2:
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ben Moxham, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.