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.
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.
Heineken Champions Cup Pool Draw for 2020/21
The holders, Exeter Chiefs, will play against Toulouse and Glasgow Warriors in the pool stage of the 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup following the tournament Pool Draw which was held on Wednesday 28 October at the Maison du Sport International in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Exeter, who lifted the trophy for the first time after a dramatic 25th anniversary final earlier this month, were drawn into Pool B and will meet the four-time tournament winners and Glasgow over four pool stage rounds on a home and away basis.
Under the new format for the 2020/21 season featuring two pools of 12 clubs, reigning Guinness PRO14 champions, Leinster Rugby, will have Montpellier and Northampton Saints as their opponents in Pool A when the tournament kicks off again in December, while last season’s runners-up, Racing 92, are in Pool B where they will be up against Connacht Rugby and Harlequins.
Wasps, who were edged out by the Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership final, will meet Dragons and Montpellier in Pool A, and PRO14 finalists, Ulster Rugby, will take on Gloucester Rugby and Toulouse in Pool B.
Munster Rugby will renew their European rivalry with ASM Clermont Auvergne and Harlequins in Pool B, while Bristol Bears’ Director of Rugby, Pat Lam, will make a return to Galway when the Challenge Cup winners go up against Connacht and Clermont also in Pool B.
For the purposes of the draw, the 24 clubs which qualified from the Premiership, the PRO14 and the TOP 14 were classified into four tiers based on their performances in the knockout phases of their respective leagues, and/or on their qualifying positions in their respective league tables.
Each tier contained six clubs with Tier 1 made up of the number one and number two ranked clubs from each league, and Tier 2, the number three and number four ranked clubs from each league, and so on.
Starting with Tier 1, the clubs were either drawn or allocated into either Pool A or Pool B so that each pool contained 12 clubs with no clubs in the same tier from the same league in the same pool.
The key principles regarding the pool stage fixtures are that clubs will only play against opponents in the same pool, and clubs from the same league cannot play against one another.
The Tier 1 and Tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league, will play one another home and away over four rounds. The same principle applies to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league.
The exact dates of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stage fixtures and the Challenge Cup preliminary stage fixtures, including venues, kick-off times and TV coverage, will be announced as soon as possible following consultation with clubs and EPCR’s partner broadcasters.
The four highest-ranked clubs from each Heineken Champions Cup pool will qualify for the quarter-finals which will be played over two legs, and the clubs ranked from number five to number eight in each pool will qualify for the Round of 16 of the Challenge Cup.
Today’s draw, which mapped out the first steps on the journey to the 2021 Marseille finals weekend, was conducted by EPCR Chief Executive, Vincent Gaillard, and by EPCR Commercial and Brand Manager, Anya Alderslade.
The event scrutineer was Lausanne-based solicitor, Jean-Guillaume Amiguet.
2020/21 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP
POOL A (with opponents in brackets)
Bordeaux-Bègles (Dragons, Northampton Saints)
Leinster Rugby (Montpellier, Northampton Saints)
Wasps (Dragons, Montpellier)
Bath Rugby (La Rochelle, Scarlets)
Edinburgh Rugby (La Rochelle, Sale Sharks)
RC Toulon (Sale Sharks, Scarlets)
La Rochelle (Bath Rugby, Edinburgh Rugby)
Sale Sharks (Edinburgh Rugby, RC Toulon)
Scarlets (Bath Rugby, RC Toulon)
Dragons (Bordeaux-Bègles, Wasps)
Montpellier (Leinster Rugby, Wasps)
Northampton Saints (Bordeaux-Bègles, Leinster Rugby)
POOL B (with opponents in brackets)
Exeter Chiefs (Glasgow Warriors, Toulouse)
Lyon (Glasgow Warriors, Gloucester Rugby)
Ulster Rugby (Gloucester Rugby, Toulouse)
Bristol Bears (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Connacht Rugby)
Munster Rugby (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Harlequins)
Racing 92 (Connacht Rugby, Harlequins)
ASM Clermont Auvergne (Bristol Bears, Munster Rugby)
Connacht Rugby (Bristol Bears, Racing 92)
Harlequins (Munster Rugby, Racing 92)
Glasgow Warriors (Exeter Chiefs, Lyon)
Gloucester Rugby (Lyon, Ulster)
Toulouse (Exeter Chiefs, Ulster Rugby)
2020/21 season weekends
Round 1 – 11/12/13 December 2020
Round 2 – 18/19/20 December 2020
Round 3 – 15/16/17 January 2021
Round 4 – 22/23/24 January 2021
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 1st leg – 2/3/4 April 2021
Challenge Cup Round of 16 – 2/3/4 April 2021
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals, 2nd leg – 9/10/11 April 2021
Challenge Cup quarter-finals – 9/10/11 April 2021
Semi-finals – 30 April – 1/2 May 2021
2021 finals – Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Challenge Cup final – Friday 21 May
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 22 May
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