Preview: Leinster v Connacht

Date published: December 31 2015

Leinster Head Coach Leo Cullen has made 11 changes to his starting line-up for their New Year’s Day clash with Connacht at the RDS Arena.

There are a number of players back involved after recent injuries with Luke McGrath (knee), Johnny Sexton (quad) and Ben Te’o (concussion) all returning to the starting XV while a further eight players come in to start.

In the pack Jack McGrath is once again selected at loosehead prop after his try scoring performance last weekend with Marty Moore coming in from the start this weekend. Richardt Strauss also starts at hooker.

In the second row Devin Toner is joined by former Connacht player Mike McCarthy who played 160 times in two spells out west.

It’s a completely new back row with captain Rhys Ruddock leading the charge from blid side flanker and Josh van der Flier selected at open side. Finally Jordi Murphy starts from number eight.

In the backs, Rob Kearney starts at full back in only his second Guinness PRO12 game of the season on his 170th appearance for Leinster.

Fergus McFadden is once again selected on the right wing with Dave Kearney coming in on the left having been an unused substitute in the win over Munster last Sunday.

Ben Te’o returns from injury and takes over the inside centre jersey from Luke Fitzgerald with Garry Ringrose outside him at 13.

Luke McGrath and Johnny Sexton both return from injury to start in the half backs.

Sean O’Brien will start from the bench for what will be his 100th cap for Leinster should he come on. He made his debut in September 2008 against the Cardiff Blues and has gone on to represent his country 41 times.

Meanwhile, Connacht Head Coach Pat Lam has made three changes to his starting XV that lined out against Ulster last weekend.

While the backline remains unchanged, the pack has been boosted by the return from injury of hooker Tom McCartney and openside flanker Jake Heenan. This will be the first game of the season for 23-year-old Heenan who underwent shoulder surgery in May.

Galway man Andrew Browne is also introduced, joining Aly Muldowney in the second row.

Commenting on the team selection and the upcoming game, Lam said: “It’s great to have both Tom (McCartney) and Jake (Heenan) back from injury and ready for this game having joined us in training over the past few weeks.

“Tom adds that bit of experience and leadership that is needed in these big games, especially with our young back line. We are all delighted to see Jake returning after what has been a challenging six months for him. He has worked extremely hard to get back to this point with the help of our medical and S&C teams and he is raring to go.

“I’m pleased with the quality of the week’s preparation we have had as a squad. We travel to Dublin tomorrow confident in the knowledge that we have a good chance of getting the points on offer against Leinster as long as we play as a team and can take the opportunities we create.

“Although we face a big hurdle at the RDS, we are excited by it and are looking forward to the challenge.”

Form: Leinster climbed into third place in the Guinness PRO12 table with their fifth successive victory in the tournament, at Munster on Sunday. The Leinstermen have won all five home games in the PRO12 this season whilst their only defeat at the RDS Arena in the tournament since March 2013 was to Newport Gwent Dragons in February. Connacht remained in second place in the standings despite a second successive loss, at home to Ulster on Saturday. Connacht have gained at least one league point from each of their last twelve fixtures in the competition. Each side won its respective home games when the two teams clashed in the Guinness PRO12 last season whilst Connacht have never won in their 8 previous visits to the RDS Arena, with their only victory in Dublin since 1985 coming at Donnybrook in 2002.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jordi Murphy, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Peter Dooley, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Ross Molony, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Zane Kirchner.

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Craig Ronaldson, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Eoghan Masterson. 7 Jake Heenan, 6 John Muldoon (c), 5 Andrew Browne, 4 Aly Muldowney, 3 Nathan White, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Finlay Bealham.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Ian Porter, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Rory Parata.

Date: Friday, January 1
Venue: RDS
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland), Mark Patton (Ireland)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)