In-form back rower Will Connors is the only player retained in Leinster’s starting line-up for their opening game of the New Year against provincial rivals Connacht at the RDS on Saturday (kick-off 5.30pm).
Following last week’s Thomond Park defeat of Munster, head coach Leo Cullen has brought in a number of fresh faces for the round 10 fixture in the GUINNESS PRO14. Limited match tickets are available to buy online here.
A completely new back-line includes Jordan Larmour, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney in the back-three, Joe Tomane returns from a hamstring injury to partner Garry Ringrose in midfield, and Ciaran Frawley gets the nod at half-back alongside Luke McGrath.
The 166-times capped Rhys Ruddock captains the Conference A leaders from the back row. Connors and Max Deegan complete the loose forwards, while Ross Molony, who had a successful return from a foot injury against Munster, partners James Ryan at lock.
Offaly man Peter Dooley joins Ireland internationals Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong in the front row, and there are three current members of the Leinster Academy included among the replacements – forwards Roman Salanoa and Ryan Baird and out-half Harry Byrne.
Speaking following the Captain’s Run today, Cullen said: “Our systems need to be good on both sides of the ball. For 50 minutes against Ulster, we acquitted ourselves well but then we had mental lapses, an intercept try, dropping the ball.
“We need to tighten up and impose ourselves on the opposition and it will be challenging with a new team. We’ve a number of guys coming back in fresh. It’s a tricky period and Joe (Tomane) is one of those coming back in from injury so we’re all looking forward to getting going with the last interprovincial of the festive period.
“The management the players get from the backroom team is crucial and players have had time off which is important because with the World Cup build-up starting in June, and Test matches still being played next July, the time off is important.
“It’s been a full-on block of games and a case of survival of the fittest and thankfully we still have a lot of fit guys. We got through Thomond Park with a clean bill of health but we need to bring in players who need games.
“We have Academy guys getting integrated. Ryan Baird had an ankle injury, Harry Byrne featured against Ulster and did well as did Roman Salanoa off the bench. Connacht will be motivated and some of their players came through the system here and they will have a drive to do well, particularly after losing their two games over Christmas.”
LEINSTER (v Connacht): Jordan Larmour; Fergus McFadden, Garry Ringrose, Joe Tomane, Dave Kearney; Ciaran Frawley, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock (capt), Will Connors, Max Deegan.
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Roman Salanoa, Ryan Baird, Caelan Doris, Jamison Gibson-Park, Harry Byrne, Cian Kelleher.