James Ryan returns from a calf injury to feature in the Leinster second row for their final Heineken Champions Cup pool game against Benetton Rugby at Stadio di Monigo on Saturday (kick-off 2pm local time/1pm Irish time).
As unbeaten winners of Pool 1, Leo Cullen’s men can clinch top seeding for the knockout stages with a win over the Italians. Even a four-point haul would be enough to secure a home quarter-final and put them on course for a semi-final at the Aviva Stadium.
They will field an unchanged back-line from last week’s 42-14 bonus point victory at home to Lyon, with 120-times capped scrum half Luke McGrath stepping up to captain Leinster for the first time in Europe.
McGrath combines again with Ross Byrne at half-back, the in-form Dave Kearney teams up with Jordan Larmour and James Lowe in the back-three, and Garry Ringrose, the tournament’s joint-top try scorer with six tries, is partnered by Robbie Henshaw in the centre.
Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter, two of the try scorers from round 5, return to the tight five along with Ryan who saw out the Lyon match with a calf issue. Cian Healy will have Devin Toner behind him on the loosehead side of the scrum.
Fresh from being included in Andy Farrell’s first Guinness Six Nations squad, Max Deegan and Caelan Doris will both line out in the back row. Deegan, the man-of-the-match against Lyon, switches to blindside flanker, Josh van der Flier continues at openside, and the 21-year-old Doris is handed his fourth start of the pool campaign.
Speaking ahead of the sixth round fixture in Italy, winger Lowe said: “No one likes losing. It’s an awesome atmosphere we’ve created. Every loss is tough, but this one would be especially tough if we lose. It will have such a huge bearing.
“If we win, then we get first, a home quarter and if we win that, a home semi. If we are able to win that, we get to pick the changing rooms for the final. This will have such a huge bearing on the outcome of the season. We genuinely don’t talk about the fact we’ve gone unbeaten.
“We want to win every single game. If we get to 16 in a row in this block of 16, that’s huge. But we’re just focused on Treviso at the weekend. We know we’ve got a target on our backs, if we’re on an unbeaten run or it’s round one of a competition.
“People want to beat us. We’ve been at the top for a couple of years. We’re a premier team in Europe. It doesn’t matter what team turns up. They want to put a shot on us.”
LEINSTER (v Benetton Rugby): Jordan Larmour; Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (capt); Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Andrew Porter, Devin Toner, James Ryan, Max Deegan, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: James Tracy, Peter Dooley, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Rhys Ruddock, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ciaran Frawley, Rob Kearney.