Preview: Northampton Saints v Leinster

Date published: December 8 2016

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has named a strong matchday 23 for Friday's Champions Cup clash with Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.

There are a number of changes to the team that faced the Dragons last weekend in the PRO12 with 10 Irish internationals back in the mix.

Rob Kearney starts at full-back with Isa Nacewa captaining the side from the left wing and Adam Byrne on the right wing. Byrne will make his Champions Cup debut having scored five tries so far this season in the PRO12.

Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose will start in midfield together for the first time since the Round 2 game against Montpellier.

In the half backs it’s as you were from last weekend with Irish internationals Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery continuing in the nine and ten jerseys.

It’s a new front row with Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong starting.

In the second row, Devin Toner will win his 50th European cap when he runs out against the Saints. Toner made his European debut in October 2008 against Edinburgh. He will have Hayden Triggs for company in the engine room.

Finally in the back row, Sean O’Brien starts at blindside with Josh van der Flier selected at open side and Jamie Heaslip at number eight.

Leinster Academy backs Ross Byrne and Rory O’Loughlin have been selected on the bench and should they be introduced they will make their European debuts.

Meanwhile, Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder has made four changes to his run-on side that lost to Leicester Tigers in the Premiership last weekend.

In the forwards, Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes return from international duty with England and replace Ben Nutley and James Craig at the openside flank and lock respectively. Wood also takes over the captaincy from Ben Foden.

The other changes are in the back-line, where Ken Pisi comes in for George North, who misses out due to his concussion issues, while Nic Groom is preferred to Tom Kessel at scrum-half.

Saints forwards coach Dorian West said Saints must take the frustration they felt at the end of last weekend’s loss to Leicester and turn it into energy as they prepare to face Leinster.

“I think the spirit we showed (against Leicester), particularly in defence, was great," he said.

“We were on our line for long periods in that second half and we were working hard for each other, we dug in, got a penalty, cleared our lines and that was really pleasing to see. But ultimately it comes down to winning and losing and we lost the game.

“It’s a big game and we’ve had really good training session with the guys this week. We’ve enjoyed it, there’s been a real buzz about the players, they’re excited.

“We’ve got all of our internationals back and with them all here we’ve had some really good sessions so it’s promising for the weekend.”

Form: Leinster have won four of the five previous meetings between the clubs, although Northampton were victorious at the Aviva Stadium in the most recent clash in 2013/14. Leinster have won both of their away games against Northampton in the Champions Cup, restricting Saints to fewer than 10 points each time. Saints' 7-40 loss against Leinster in Round 3 in 2013 is their heaviest home defeat in the tournament. Leinster have failed to win any of their last seven away matches in the Champions Cup – their worst run on the road in the competition. Of all forwards this season only Jamie Heaslip (33) has made more carries than Louis Picamoles (29 – level with Thomas Waldrom of Exeter Chiefs). This will be Northampton's 100th game in Europe's top flight – they've won 59 of their previous 99 (L39, D1) and lifted the trophy in 2000. Both clubs have conceded the most turnovers (36) in the competition this season. Of teams to have played two games this season, Leinster are one of three to have a 100% scrum success on their own put-in (Saracens and RC Toulon are the others). No player has beaten more defenders than Leinster's Joey Carbery this season (15 – level with Wesley Fofana of Clermont and Connacht's Cian Kelleher). Northampton's Mike Haywood has hit the target with all 19 of his lineout throws to date – only Ulster's Rory Best has made more throws without missing (22/22).

The teams: 

Northampton Saints:  15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 JJ Hanrahan, 11 Jamie Elliot, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Tom Wood (c), 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller 
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Tom Kessel, 22 George Pisi, 23 Ahsee Tuala

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa (c), 10 Joey Carbery, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath 
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Rhys Ruddock, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rory O’Loughlin

Date: Friday, December 9
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT 
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Adrien Descottes (France), Sebastian Cloute (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)