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European Debutant O’Brien Starts For Leinster

European Debutant O’Brien Starts For Leinster

Naas man Jimmy O'Brien has impressed at full-back during Leinster's unbeaten start to their Guinness PRO14 campaign ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Jimmy O’Brien will make his Heineken Champions Cup debut when Leinster meet Montpellier in the first round at the GGL Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 6.30pm local time/5.30pm Irish time).

The 24-year-old former Ireland Sevens international has recovered from a back injury to take his place at full-back for the Pool A opener.

Fresh from a prolonged stint in the Ireland team, Hugo Keenan returns on the right wing with Dave Kearney, who already has four tries to his name this season, selected on the left.

Skerries man Ciaran Frawley is rewarded for his impressive recent form with a first European start in midfield. He partners Robbie Henshaw who makes his 50th Leinster appearance.

Ross Byrne and Luke McGrath will have the reins at half-back, with regular captain Jonathan Sexton and new Ireland cap Jamison Gibson-Park part of a strong international-laden bench.

Peter Dooley, who has scored two tries in his last three games, James Tracy and Michael Bent pack down together in the front row, supported by experienced locks Devin Toner and Scott Fardy.

The in-form Rhys Ruddock captains the province from blindside flanker, Josh van der Flier fills the opernside berth, and Caelan Doris, the winner of two player-of-the-match awards during the Autumn Nations Cup, is back at number 8.

Among the replacements are a number of players returning from Ireland’s autumn campaign, including Sexton, who has recovered from a dead leg, and James Ryan who has come through the return-to-play protocols.

Speaking about this season’s new European format and tomorrow’s opponents, head coach Leo Cullen said: “The fact that there’s only four pool games, that becomes even more of a challenge this year.

“So, for us, getting all the guys back and having a full squad to pick from – bar a couple of guys who’ll miss out through injury – we know there’s very little margin for error within your pool.

“We understand some of the power that Montpellier have, particularly in the forwards, and some of the quality they have in their backs as well.

“They’ve a lot of experience in terms of their playing group but, in recent times, Jake White is a World Cup-winning coach, Vern Cotter is a hugely experienced coach, both in France and internationally.

“They’ve a new coaching group now with Xavier Garbajosa who’s come in with Philippe Saint-André as director of rugby. So a hugely experienced group. We’re in for a great challenge. They’ve a huge amount of quality.”

LEINSTER (v Montpellier): Jimmy O’Brien; Hugo Keenan, Robbie Henshaw, Ciaran Frawley, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock (capt), Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.

Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Ryan Baird, Jamison Gibson-Park, Jonathan Sexton, Dan Leavy.