Leinster have only retained two players from their starting XV that defeated Ulster last weekend for their clash with Benetton Treviso in the RDS on Saturday at 19 45.
The two players retained are second-row Scott Fardy and scrum-half Luke McGrath, who also captains the side.
Leinster will be looking to stretch their lead at the top of Conference B having already sealed a home semi-final and have decided to switch things up in order to get the job done.
In the front-row Ulster-bound Jack McGrath comes in alongside James Tracy and Andrew Porter, with Mick Kearney pairing up with Fardy behind them in the second-row.
The young trio of Josh Murphy, Max Deegan and Caelan Doris start in the back-row at six, seven and eight respectively.
McGrath continues at nine and is joined in the half-backs by Noel Reid at 10. Joe Tomane and youngster Conor O’Brien begin the game in the centre.
James Lowe returns to the side on the left-wing, with Fergus McFadden on the right and Barry Daly coming in at full-back.
It is a youthful bench as well with the likes of Jack Dunne, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ciaran Frawley and Jimmy O’Brien joining Scott Penny, who makes his first appearance since winning the Grand Slam with the Irish under 20s.
Head coach Leo Cullen has called on his players to use this opportunity to stake a claim for places in the teams that will play in the big games coming up.
“It’s a great chance for guys to lay down a marker and put their hands up and say ‘pick me, pick me for the team’ for the big games. That semi-final in a couple of weeks that everyone wants to play in. That’s the message,” he said.
The Italian side head to the RDS on the back of what has been a sensational season so far and have a host of their national players in the team.
Nicola Quaglio, Luca Bigi and Marco Riccioni make up the front-three, as Irne Herbsy and Federico Ruzza start in the engine room.
There is a strong back-three to finish up the pack with Sebastian Negri, Braam Steyn and Toa Halafihi all set to start.
Dewaldt Duvenage partners Tommaso Allan in the half-backs with Luca Morisi at 12 and Marco Zanon at 13.
Monty Ioane and Iliesa Ratuva on the wings and Jayden Hayward covering the full-back role.
With players like Simone Ferrari and Tito Tebaldi to call on from the reserves, Leinster will have to be wary of the visitors in the closing stages.
As mentioned above Leinster already certain to finish top of Conference B but will want to head into the knock-out stages on a high. While Benetton currently sit third in the conference, three-points ahead of Edinburgh and a win away here could be vital if they are to claim a play-off spot.
Vodacom Bulls sign Premiership star
The Vodacom Bulls are happy to announce the signing of Premiership and Champions Cup winner, Jannes Kirsten. The multifaceted forward will join the Pretoria-based Vodacom Bulls from 1 July 2023 with his initial stay pencilled in till June 2026.
Kirsten – a former South African Under-20s international – is no stranger to Loftus, having made his mark playing for the Vodacom Bulls, both in Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. The 29-year-old has the Vodacom Bulls DNA, being the younger brother of one Frik Kirsten, a prop who made 81 appearances for the club between 2008 and 2014.
Since moving to England in 2019, the lock/back-rower has made a mammoth 75 appearances for his current side, the Exeter Chiefs. Forming part of the core group that would help the English club claim a historic double, winning both the Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup during the 2019/2020 season. A season where Kirsten became an instrumental figure on the field and a proven champion off it.
Blue Bulls Company (BBCo.) Chief Executive Officer, Edgar Rathbone said the news of Kirsten joining the herd is good for South African rugby and not just the Vodacom Bulls.
“We know Jannes very well and understand the impact he can have. We appreciate that he has gone on to play in Europe, in different conditions against some of the best rugby stars in that part of the world, so the experience he returns with will be invaluable to us. He knows Pretoria very well and having him return means that he sees us as the place he can call home and so we are really glad to see him return to be united with his family,”
“The introduction of South African teams in European competition has meant that now more than the years before, we are seeing a few more locally produced quality players looking to make a return because they still have the opportunity to compete against some of the best in the Northern Hemisphere whilst adding value to the game in their own backyard,”
“We appreciate that he is a versatile player, who can slot in at lock and flank and that will add to our dynamic options, strengthening our rugby offering. We look forward to welcoming him in July and are confident that he will continue being the world-class player that we have seen become, wearing our stripes” concluded Rathbone.
Reflecting on his time at the Chiefs, Kirsten said: “The past four years have been an unbelievable experience, not just in terms of my rugby, but my own personal life. Coming to Exeter was obviously a new challenge for me, but it’s one that has brought me so much.
“The club, the city, the people, they have all been amazing and I will leave at the end of the season with only happy memories. What I have been able to achieve is something I am very proud of and the friends I have made will be life-long.
“South Africa, however, is home for me and the time is right for me to go back there and continue the next chapter of my rugby career. Heading over to Pretoria just a few weeks ago with the Chiefs was very special, particularly as I never thought I would run out at Loftus as a visiting player.
“Also, getting the opportunity to show my homeland to my teammates and the staff that travelled was something I will remember. The Chiefs will always hold a big place in my heart and between now and the end of the season I will be doing everything possible to ensure my time here finishes on a high note.”
Everybody at Loftus is excited and cannot wait to welcome Jannes home.
Connacht squad to face Emirates Lions named
The Connacht management team have named the matchday 23 for tomorrow’s BKT United Rugby Championship tie with the Emirates Lions at The Sportsground (k/o 7.35pm)
Having missed last week’s trip to Newcastle through injury, Jack Carty returns to captain the side. The out-half could make history in the game – he needs six points to equal Eric Elwood’s all-time points scoring record of 1152 points for the province.
Scrum-half Caolin Blade is named alongside him while Cathal Forde and Tom Farrell are named at inside and outside-centre respectively. Tiernan O’Halloran lines out at full back for his 215th Connacht appearance with John Porch and Diarmuid Kilgallen on the wings.
The pack sees the Murray brothers Darragh and Niall paired together in the second row, while props Peter Dooley and Jack Aungier come in alongside hooker Shane Delahunt. Josh Murphy moves from the second row to blindside flanker, while Conor Oliver and Jarrad Butler are retained at 7 and 8.
Commenting on the team selection, Director of Rugby Andy Friend says:
“Tomorrow marks the end of a long block of games for us and one we want to finish on a high. If we get the win we head into the next block well in the running for a playoff spot – while achieving our aim of reaching the Challenge Cup knockouts – so it’s not a bad spot to be in.
We’re fully aware however that we need a win tomorrow to put ourselves in that position. The Lions are a formidable outfit and have improved even more since their first season last year, so we know a difficult challenge awaits us.”
CONNACHT RUGBY MATCHDAY 23 VS EMIRATES LIONS
Saturday 28th January, 19:35 @ The Sportsground
15. Tiernan O’Halloran (214)
14. Diarmuid Kilgallen (12)
13. Tom Farrell (90)
12. Cathal Forde (7)
11. John Porch (72)
10. Jack Carty (190) (C)
9. Caolin Blade (161)
1. Peter Dooley (12)
2. Shane Delahunt (124)
3. Jack Aungier (43)
4. Darragh Murray (5)
5. Niall Murray (47)
6. Josh Murphy (11)
7. Conor Oliver (54)
8. Jarrad Butler (107)
16. Dylan Tierney-Martin (15)
17. Jordan Duggan (34)
18. Dominic Robertson-McCoy (76)
19. Leva Fifita (22)
20. Shamus Hurley-Langton (12)
21. Kieran Marmion (222)
22. Tom Daly (71)
23. Oran McNulty (12)
Images & Content from – Connacht Rugby
New Role for Ian Costello
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm that Academy and Pathway Manager Ian Costello will assume the newly created role of Head of Rugby Operations at the end of this season.
Costello will take on further responsibility in an all-encompassing Head of Rugby Operations role that will oversee the long-term strategic development of the elite player pathway, succession planning, and provide recruitment support for developing, retaining, and recruiting players in conjunction with the Head Coach.
Commenting on the appointment, Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan said, “We are delighted that Ian will step into this newly created role.
“This has been a work in progress in the background for some time as we look to align our resource support with the IRFU and other provinces.
“When Ian returned to the province as Academy Manager he was identified as the ideal candidate for this role when incorporating his previous coaching experience, managerial skill-set, and strategic abilities for aligning and developing our player pathway.”
Head Coach Graham Rowntree added, “I’m delighted to have someone of Cossie’s calibre (Ian Costello) taking on this role.
“We work very closely as it is through his academy role, and from my own personal point of view it has been a really positive working relationship. Ian and his academy team play a key role in everything we are trying to achieve each week.
“It’s great to have a dedicated resource to driving long-term succession planning and coordinate recruitment operations, and I believe it will be of huge benefit to not only me and our coaching team, but to Munster Rugby.”
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
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