It was confirmed that Sexton would miss out earlier on Friday morning with Ross Byrne taking his place at No 10. However, some returning Irish stars have been left out of the starting team and 23 too.
On the other side Iain Henderson has been passed fit for the visitors, in what is a huge boost for the northern side
Leinster’s team is made up by Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, and Tadhg Furlong in the front-row, with James Ryan and Scott Fardy in the lock positions.
In the back-row, Rhys Ruddock captains the side in Sexton’s absence from the left-flank, with Sean O’Brien on the opposite side and Jack Conan slotting in at No 8 to complete the pack.
Luke McGrath is picked to start at scrum-half after making a return to action last weekend, and is joined in the half-backs by Byrne, who has a massive opportunity to shine now.
In the centre, Rory O’Loughlin partners Garry Ringrose, while Dave Kearney is at 11, Adam Byrne at 14 and Jordan Larmour comes in to play at 15.
The bench is full of experience with the likes of Dan Leavy, Andrew Porter, Jamison Gibson-Park and Rob Kearney ready to provide fire-power when called upon.
Gibson-Park’s inclusion on the bench also ruled out James Lowe from taking part in the game, while Kearney finds himself on the bench due to Larmour’s starting role, however Jack McGrath is a noticeable absentee from the squad.
Speaking ahead of the game Leinster head coach Leo Cullen explained that some players will have to get used to being left out due to the younger talent that is coming through at the club.
“We’ve guys coming through the system and they can all contribute. It’s unfair to talk about guys missing out. It’s about a squad of players. This is the group we are and the way we want it to be. It’s the nature of the business, investing in the young players. Older guys know they need to facilitate that, it can be hard at times but we have to tell them this is the way it is this week. And when they deliver things in training there can be a next time,” he said.
On the Ulster side, as mentioned above Henderson is available and he is joined by returning captain Rory Best to bolster their hopes of an upset.
Best is partnered in the front-row by Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore, with Henderson joined by Kieran Treadwell in the second-row.
Nick Timoney is at six, while Jordi Murphy comes in at seven to make his first start against his former side. Marcell Coetzee completes the pack at No 8.
John Cooney and Billy Burns continue to be given time together in the half-backs, with Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave outside them in the centre.
Jacob Stockdale starts on the left-wing, with Robert Baloucoune on the right and Michael Lowry at full-back.
The likes of Rob Herring, Sean Reidy and Dave Shanahan are joined in the replacements by the returning Luke Marshall.
Ulster’s danger-man Stockdale is spoken of his excitement at playing against Leinster this weekend.
“It’s a big game ahead and it’s fun playing against guys that you play with quite a lot, it’s going to be a good game,” he said.
The game will see a lot of Irish internationals that are looking for a seat on the plane to Japan go up against one another, here are some key match-ups to look out for.
Sean Cronin vs Rory Best:
Cronin was dropped from the Ireland set-up during the Six Nations, while Ireland captain Best played out his final games in the competition. Cronin has had a brilliant season with Leinster so far, especially scoring tries and will need to put up a huge fight on Saturday to stake a claim to be Best’s under-study come the World Cup.
James Ryan vs Iain Henderson:
Although one is at four and the other at five this weekend, it will be interesting to see how they cope against one another as they are such influential players in the lock position. Whoever comes out on top in the line-out department during the match will go a long way to winning the game and these men are key to the set-piece.
Sean O’Brien vs Jordi Murphy:
A departing Leinster man versus a departed Leinster man. This will be an all-out battle as neither are certain to head to Japan in one of the most hotly contested positions in the Ireland team. O’Brien is being questioned after his performances in the Six Nations, while Murphy hasn’t set the world alight since going North. If either can hit top form here it could be crucial for themselves and their team, especially as Dan Leavy will be raring to make his stamp on the game from the bench.
Luke McGrath vs John Cooney:
Again, another former blue in Cooney faces his old side. He was in and out of the Irish team while McGrath was unavailable through injury. McGrath will be wanting a perfect performance to make up for lost time because of his injury, while Cooney will want to continue his fine form that has seen him in the Irish set-up. These could be the two men battling for a place in the squad for Japan so a starring role here could seal the deal for either one.
Ross Byrne vs Billy Burns:
This is a real test for the Leinster man, who is starting due to Sexton’s injury and he won’t have an easy afternoon with Burns around. If he can control the game, it could see him step up his own plans for Japan. Burns will be doing everything he can to stop the Leinster man. Remember it was in the semi-finals 10 years ago that Sexton got his real break-through, could this be Byrne’s?
This could be the game of the weekend if it all gets going and although Leinster are strong favourites to progress this one could go down to the wire as Ulster are certainly up for the fight. Make sure you tune into this one.
Ulster name team for Northampton Quarter-Final trip
Michael Lowry is named to start at full-back, and is joined in the back three by Jacob Stockdale and Robert Baloucoune. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield duo, and Billy Burns and John Cooney are the starting half-backs.
In the front row, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring and Marty Moore retain their starting berths. Alan O’Connor will partner Kieran Treadwell in the second row. Last week’s Player of the Match, Sean Reidy, will start at blindside flanker, with Jordi Murphy skippering the team at openside and Nick Timoney at Number Eight.
John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea and Greg Jones will provide the forward reinforcements from the bench, with Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan and Ethan McIlroy named as the back line options.
Ulster team to play Northampton Saints, Challenge Cup Quarter-Final, Saturday 10 April at Franklin’s Gardens (kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport):
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Kieran Treadwell, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy (Capt.), Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Big names miss out for Ulster
The back line sees just one change from the side that played Toulouse last Friday. Michael Lowry, Jacob Stockdale and Matt Faddes all retain their positions in the back three. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume are the starting midfield duo. Billy Burns returns at fly-half and will captain the side; he will partner John Cooney at scrum-half.
The front row remains unchanged for this game. Rob Herring is named at hooker, with Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore packing down at loosehead and tighthead prop. Alan O’Connor will partner with his brother David – who will make his first Heineken Champions Cup start with Sam Carter missing out through concussion. Sean Reidy has been selected at blindside, with Jordi Murphy returning at openside. Nick Timoney comes in to start at Number Eight to replace the injured Marcel Coetzee.
John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, and Greg Jones are the forward bench options. Academy player, Ethan McIlroy could make his European debut if called upon from the bench, and is named alongside Alby Mathewson and Ian Madigan in the back line replacements.
Ulster team to play Gloucester, Heineken Champions Cup Round 2, Saturday 19 December 2020 at Kingsholm Stadium, kick-off 3.15pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns (Capt.), John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, David O’Connor, Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney.
Replacements: John Andrew, Kyle McCall, Tom O’Toole, Matty Rea, Greg Jones, Alby Mathewson, Ian Madigan, Ethan McIlroy.
Ulster name strong side to face Toulouse
In the back three, Jacob Stockdale returns from international duty to the left wing, joining Michael Lowry at full-back and Matt Faddes on the right wing. In midfield, Stuart McCloskey also returns from the Ireland squad to partner with James Hume. Ian Madigan has been named at fly-half alongside John Cooney at scrum-half.
Having made his international debut against Scotland last week, Eric O’Sullivan, comes in to take the starting berth at loosehead prop. Rob Herring also returns from Ireland duties and is named at hooker, with Marty Moore retaining his position at tighthead. Alan O’Connor will partner with Sam Carter, who will lead the side from the second row. Sean Reidy and Jordi Murphy are named at blindside and openside, with Marcell Coetzee completing the pack at Number Eight.
John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, and Matty Rea provide the forward options, with Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore and Craig Gilroy offering back line cover from the bench.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round 1, Friday 11 December 2020 at Kingspan Stadium, kick-off 8pm, live on BT Sport / beIN Sport:
(15-9) Michael Lowry, Matt Faddes, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Ian Madigan, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Sam Carter (Capt.), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee.
Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, David O’Connor, Matty Rea, Alby Mathewson, Stewart Moore, Craig Gilroy.