Preview: Leinster v Northampton Saints

Date published: December 16 2016

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has announced his match day 23 to take on Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium.

With injury ruling both Rob Kearney and Joey Carbery out of the Champions Cup, Pool 4 encounter, Cullen has drafted in South African international Zane Kirchner for his 75th Leinster cap, while UCD outhalf Ross Byrne will make his first start in Europe having impressed off the bench last week in Northampton.

Otherwise it is the same starting XV that accounted for Saints in Franklin’s Gardens last Friday with Adam Byrne and Isa Nacewa the other two in the Leinster back-three along with Kirchner. Nacewa captains the side on the occasion of his 160th appearance in blue and will go past the 600 point mark for the club should he score four points or more tomorrow in the Aviva Stadium.

Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw continue in the centre with UCD players Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne in the half backs.

The experienced international trio of Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and last week’s Man of the Match Tadhg Furlong continue in the front row. Together they have 103 Irish caps between them.

Devin Toner who made his 50th European appearance last week continues in the second row with former Maori All Black Hayden Triggs beside him in the number five jersey.

Finally in the back row, Sean O’Brien, Josh van der Flier and Jamie Heaslip complete the starting XV for Leinster.

On the bench Noel Reid makes a welcome return from a foot injury sustained in the win against the Dragons in the RDS a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Northampton the coaches have used the Aviva Stadium clash as an opportunity to freshen the team, with internationals Ahsee Tuala, George Pisi, Kieran Brookes, Api Ratuniyarawa, Calum Clark and Teimana Harrison all returning to the line-up. Pisi has also been handed the captain’s armband.

Form: Three-time European champions Leinster sent a statement of intent to their Pool 4 rivals with a thumping 37-10 triumph at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend. A repeat result would put Leo Cullen’s men in pole position to qualify for the quarter-finals. But they know the dangers of writing off a wounded Northampton Saints side after their back-to-back clashes in 2013. Leinster ran riot to claim a 40-7 victory at Northampton, but the Saints were resurrected a week later and shocked the Aviva Stadium 18-9. Leinster kicked off their campaign by beating Castres in their tournament opener but lost their next match at Montpellier before bouncing back in style with last weekend’s win at the Saints. Northampton are playing catchup in Pool 4 after a win and two defeats so far. Leinster lead the way on 11 points with Montpellier just behind on 10. The Saints will have to win their three remaining fixtures to stand a chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds. They claimed a narrow win at home over Montpellier in Round before suffering heavy losses to Castres and Leinster.

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Isa Nacewa(c), 10 Ross Byrne, 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 Noel Reid, 23 Rory O’Loughlin

Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi(c), 12 JJ Hanrahan, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 James Craig, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Charlie Clare, 1 Ethan Waller
Replacements: 16 James Fish, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 James Wilson

Date: Saturday, December 17
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 21:45 GMT
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Tual Trainini (France), Mathieu Noirot (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (France)