With a leg muscle injury ruling out Jonathan Sexton, Rhys Ruddock will captain Leinster in Saturday evening’s sold-out Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 5.45pm).
Sexton’s absence will see 23-year-old out-half Ross Byrne step up to play his first European knockout match, while Jordan Larmour is preferred to Rob Kearney at full-back. There are four changes to the side that won 37-19 at Wasps last time out in the tournament, including Rory O’Loughlin’s inclusion at inside centre for the injured Robbie Henshaw.
Devin Toner and Josh van der Flier, who are also currently on the injury list, make way for Scott Fardy and Jack Conan respectively, with Sean O’Brien shifting from number 8 to openside flanker. In addition, scrum half Luke McGrath comes in for his first Champions Cup appearance since suffering a knee ligament injury against Toulouse in January.
McGrath returned against Edinburgh last week in the GUINNESS PRO14 and continues at half-back alongside Byrne, who started the province’s last two pool games and kicked 19 points. Centre Garry Ringrose and wingers Dave Kearney and Adam Byrne, who scored two tries in last three European games, complete the back-line.
Fardy is joined by Ireland internationals Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan in the tight five – hooker Cronin is hoping to add to his superb six-try haul from Leinster’s pool campaign – and the hosts can bank on a powerful trio of loose forwards in skipper Ruddock, O’Brien and Conan.
Returning to full fitness, flanker Dan Leavy boosts the defending champions’ bench options, while fellow forwards Mick Kearney and Andrew Porter are in line to play their 50th games for Leinster. It would be Clontarf clubman Kearney’s first Champions Cup appearance since he started against Montpellier back in October 2016.
LEINSTER (v Ulster): Jordan Larmour; Adam Byrne, Garry Ringrose, Rory O’Loughlin, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Scott Fardy, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock (capt), Sean O’Brien, Jack Conan.
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Mick Kearney, Dan Leavy, Jamison Gibson-Park, Noel Reid, Rob Kearney.