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 Change One for Bath Decider
Ulster have made only one change to their starting line-up for their Champions Cup pool decider against Bath tomorrow
That change comes in the form of Tom O’Toole, who was selected in Andy Farrell’s 35-man strong Ireland squad this week, but the team is otherwise unchanged from last weekend’s loss to Clermont.
That means Jack McGrath and Rob Herring join O’Toole in the front-row, with Alan O’Connor joining-up once more with captain Iain Henderson in the engine-room.
Sean Reidy continues at blindside-flanker, with Jordi Murphy looking to put his Ireland snub behind him when he takes his spot on the openside, while Marcell Coetzee finishes up the pack from No 8.
Possible Ireland starter John Cooney has another chance to impress from scrum-half, with Billy Burns his half-back partner, while Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall link-up in the midfield, with the former in a similar boat to Murphy following a snub from Ireland despite being in a rich vein of form.
Jacob Stockdale remains on the left-wing, with youngster Robert Baloucoune on the right and Will Addison completes the XV from full-back.
There is plenty for McFarland to call on from the bench too with the likes of Eric O’Sullivan, Nick Timoney, Bill Johnston and Craig Gilroy among the replacements.
Speaking ahead of the game Herring is aware of the task at hand is expecting a tough challenge from Bath despite the English side being out of the competition already.
“Bath are going to come fully-loaded and full of players who can attack, so we need to keep it tight and capitalise on any opportunities,” he said.
Ulster know a win coupled with a slip up from Clermont would see them seal top spot in the pool, but either way they will want to finish on a high as they prepare for the knock-out stages.
Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.
Will Addison, Robert Baloucoune, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale, Billy Burns, John Cooney; Jack McGrath, Rob Herring, Tom O’Toole, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (c), Sean Reidy, Jordi Murphy, Marcell Coetzee
Adam McBurney, Eric O’Sullivan, Ross Kane, Kieran Treadwell, Nick Timoney, David Shanahan, Bill Johnston, Craig Gilroy
Leinster Go Strong for Benetton Trip
Leinster have decided not to rest their stars for their final Champions Cup pool game as they seek the top seed spot
Despite already being assured of top spot in the pool Cullen has named an experienced side full of stars in order to try and claim a win which will see them go into the knock-out stages as the top seeded side.
The only surprises in the team are that both Max Deegan and Caelan Doris have been handed a chance to start the game, while in the backs Luke McGrath has been handed the role of captain.
Elsewhere, Cian Healy and Andrew Porter are either side of hooker Sean Cronin in the front-row. Cronin will hope to put in a good shift after being snubbed in Ireland’s Six Nations squad announcement this week, while Devin Toner and James Ryan slot in behind them in second-row.
Deegan shifts from No 8 to take up a place as blindside-flanker, with Josh van der Flier remaining on the openside and Doris comes in as the No 8 this time around in what is an exciting back-row.
McGrath is joined in the half-backs by Ross Byrne, and they have Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose outside them in the centre.
James Lowe continues on the left-wing, with Dave Kearney hoping to continue his fine form on the right, while Jordan Larmour is once again at full-back to complete the XV.
There is a huge amount of experience on the bench too for Cullen to call upon if needed with the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Rhys Ruddock, Jamison Gibson-Park and Rob Kearney among the replacements.
Speaking ahead of the game Lowe is wary of the threat that the Italian outfit have and believes that the results aren’t a fair showing for their performances so far this season.
“Their results probably don’t reflect the season they’ve had. They’ve been so, so close on so many occasions in the PRO14 and the Champions Cup. We’re under no illusion the threats that they do pose. It’s, for a lot of them the last chance to put their hand up before the Six Nations as well. So there’s a lot of individuals in that environment who will want to prove a point,” he said.
Leinster head into the game as clear favourites to make it 16 wins on the bounce and know that a win will seal them the top seeding heading into the quarter-finals. However, they will need to overcome a Benetton side that will be hoping to end their European campaign on a high.
Check Out the Full 23-Man Squad Below.
15. Jordan Larmour (45)
14. Dave Kearney (145)
13. Garry Ringrose (71)
12. Robbie Henshaw (43)
11. James Lowe (40)
10. Ross Byrne (83)
9. Luke McGrath (120) (c)
1. Cian Healy (215)
2. Seán Cronin (177)
3. Andrew Porter (61)
4. Devin Toner (243)
5. James Ryan (36)
6. Max Deegan (59)
7. Josh van der Flier (79)
8. Caelan Doris (28)
16. James Tracy (105)
17. Peter Dooley (72)
18. Tadhg Furlong (107)
19. Ross Molony (92)
20. Rhys Ruddock (168)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (84)
22. Ciarán Frawley (21)
23. Rob Kearney (216)
Leinster Batter Lyon at the RDS
Leinster have made it 15 wins from 15 so far this season with yet another big win
A brace of tries from Dave Kearney, along with further five-pointers from Josh van der Flier, Max Deegan, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter saw the boys in blue ease to victory despite not being at their best throughout the game.
Leinster thought they had got off to the perfect start as Luke McGrath went over for a try after just 40 seconds, but it was chalked off with the scrum-half being offside.
They went over again moments later but again it again cancelled out as James Lowe knocked on in the build-up.
However, it was third time lucky with 10 minutes on the clock as Ross Byrne took a quick cross-field kick from a penalty, which Lowe took in before sending it inside to Kearney for the try. Byrne split the posts with the conversion to make it 7-0.
Four minutes on and they were over again through van der Flier who was fed by McGrath close to the line and he charged over. Byrne made it two kicks from two to push the hosts 14-0 ahead.
Lyon hit back just after the 20 minute mark as Virgile Bruni intercepted a pass and raced forward to touch down under the posts. Jonathan Pelissie knocked over the extras to cut into the hosts lead.
Leinster captain Scott Fardy thought he had scored his side’s third try only to have it ruled out for another knock-on.
However, on 31 minutes Leinster did have their third try and it was Kearney who finished off a period of pressure in the opposition 22 as Lowe unselfishly passed to him when he could have tried to score himself. Byrne hit the post with the conversion, but it still managed to go over to make it 21-7.
The away side hit back again after some pressure of their own in the Leinster 22 and with a penalty advantage they went over for their second try of the game through second-row Hendrik Roodt. Pelissie converted once again to make it 21-14 come half-time.
Leinster dominated the opening exchanges of the second-half and thought they had scored their fourth try of the afternoon on 45 minutes through van der Flier, but it was again ruled out, this time due to a forward pass.
The home side continued to put the pressure on inside the Lyon 22 and after a number of penalties the away side lost Felix Lambey to a yellow-card.
Leinster made the most of their man advantage and secured the bonus-point try on 50 minutes as Deegan finished off a number of phases in the Lyon 22 by barging under the posts. Byrne chipped over the conversion to give Leinster a 28-14 lead.
Things only got worse for Lyon on 63 minutes as Xavier Mignot was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes and again Leinster made their numerical advantage count as substitute Cronin went over off the back of a line-out from the resulting penalty. Byrne made it five from five from the tee to make it 35-14.
They had their sixth try of the game with nine minutes left on the clock as they made the most of some more time in the Lyon 22 and after a few phases Porter barrelled over for a five-pointer. Replacement fly-half Ciaran Frawley slotted the conversion between the posts.
The final 10 minutes came to nothing for either side as Leinster ran out 42-14 winners.
The win means that Leinster have claimed 24 points from a possible 25 in the pool stages and have continued their winning streak this season, extending the run to 15 on the bounce. Leinster will hope to finish the pool with a perfect record when they head to Benetton next weekend, while Lyon will hope to end their run in this season’s competition with a positive result against Northampton.
Jordan Larmour (7), Dave Kearney (8), Garry Ringrose (7), Robbie Henshaw (7), James Lowe (8), Ross Byrne (8), Luke McGrath (8); Cian Healy (7), James Tracy (7), Tadhg Furlong (8), Devin Toner (7), Scott Fardy (8), Rhys Ruddock (7), Josh van der Flier (8), Max Deegan (9)
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