Jump to main content


O’Reilly And Smith Step Up For Leinster Debuts

O’Reilly And Smith Step Up For Leinster Debuts

Andrew Smith scored two tries in three games for the Ireland Under-20s during the 2020 U-20 Six Nations Championship ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Returning out-half Jonathan Sexton will make his first provincial appearance in three months when Leinster entertain Connacht in Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 derby clash at the RDS (kick-off 7.35pm).

Sexton, who suffered a dead leg while on Ireland duty recently, is a notable inclusion in a team captained by fellow half-back Luke McGrath. There are debuts for Academy duo Max O’Reilly and Andrew Smith in the back-three.

20-year-old Enniskerry native O’Reilly starts his first senior game for Leinster in the number 15 jersey, with Dubliner Smith (also 20) selected on the right wing and the in-form Dave Kearney on the left.

Jimmy O’Brien shifts to midfield where he partners Rory O’Loughlin, and the hosts’ back-line is completed by 304 caps-worth of experience in Sexton and stand-in skipper McGrath.

Tighthead Michael Bent makes his 150th Leinster appearance, alongside Peter Dooley and hooker James Tracy, and Ross Molony and the 255-times capped Devin Toner will back them up from the engine room.

There is an all-St. Michael’s College combination in the back row as Ryan Baird, Scott Penny and Dan Leavy line out together. Leavy packs down at number 8 for the first time since December 2018.

In a further boost for the defending PRO14 champions, Ed Byrne and Jack Conan are both back from injury to fill bench roles. The pair have not played since the second round win away to Benetton Rugby back in October.

Looking at this week’s opposition, head coach Leo Cullen said: “There’s that extra bit in the game because of some of the familiarity. There’s a lot of players playing for Connacht who are ex-Leinster guys, whether that’s come through the Academy, underage system or some senior players that have gone down there.

“Those guys, we know, are hugely motivated, so it’s important that we understand that in terms of our preparation for the game. I thought Connacht were strong in the first half against Ulster (last weekend)

“Ulster seemed to definitely get the benefit of the conditions on the day and were able to squeeze Connacht a bit in the second half, in terms of just filling the front line with defenders and it was quite difficult for Connacht to play out.

“But you see some of the quality play that they have. Connacht are a very, very dangerous attacking team and we need to be clued in to the attacking threats that they have.”

LEINSTER (v Connacht): Max O’Reilly; Andrew Smith, Jimmy O’Brien, Rory O’Loughlin, Dave Kearney; Jonathan Sexton, Luke McGrath (capt); Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Devin Toner, Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Dan Leavy.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Ed Byrne, Tom Clarkson, Josh Murphy, Jack Conan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Liam Turner, Will Connors.