With Jonathan Sexton listed on the bench, Rhys Ruddock will captain Leinster from the back row when they lock horns with Munster in Saturday’s GUINNESS PRO14 semi-final at the RDS (kick-off 2.30pm).
The much-anticipated interprovincial derby is a sell-out with all 18,977 tickets snapped up – including the extra 677 seats brought in this week. There will be no tickets available from the ticket office at the RDS on match day.
Head coach Leo Cullen has made four changes to the team that lost last Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final in Newcastle. Sexton and Scott Fardy are named among the replacements, while Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien are not part of the matchday 23.
The lone positional switch sees Jordan Larmour revert to full-back with Dave Kearney returning on the right wing. James Lowe continues on the left, Ross Byrne hits 70 Leinster caps at out-half, and Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw and Luke McGrath complete the back-line.
The tight five from the Saracens match is retained – front rowers Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong, along with locks Devin Toner and James Ryan – and Josh van der Flier had got back in time for the defending champions’ PRO14 play-off tilt.
The 26-year-old van der Flier returns at openside flanker for his first Leinster appearance since January, having recovered from the groin injury he suffered during the Six Nations. Skipper Ruddock, who is promoted from the bench, and Jack Conan complete the loose forwards.
Experienced second row Toner used last year’s tightly-contested semi-final at the RDS, which saw the Leinstermen prevail 16-15 in a gripping encounter, as an example of what sort of contest he is expecting when Munster make a return trip tomorrow.
“It was a cracking occasion last year, it was a really tough game and we’re expecting nothing less this year,” said the Meath man. “Obviously, Munster have had two weeks to prepare for it so they’re going to be up for it this weekend, I’ve no doubt.
“It’s not going to be too hard to get up for Saturday afternoon, to be honest. Munster in a semi-final, especially in the RDS as well, we really want to put on a good game for our fans.
“The travelling support for us over the years has been amazing. To see them when we were there last weekend in St. James’ Park for the Champions Cup final was unbelievable. The amount of flags was ridiculous and they were so loud.
“I hope it came across what they mean to us. We know, first of all, how expensive it is to be able to go over to away games, away finals, and there’s so many of them that go to every single away game. We want to put in a good showing for them, especially at the RDS.”
LEINSTER (v Munster): Jordan Larmour; Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock (capt), Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy, Max Deegan, Nick McCarthy, Jonathan Sexton, Rory O’Loughlin.