Tadhg Furlong will make his long-awaited return from injury when Leinster visit the Scarlets in Saturday night’s Guinness PRO14 clash in Llanelli (kick-off 7.35pm).
Furlong, who was named in Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations squad this week, is looking to put a series of injuries behind him as he makes his first start since Ireland’s defeat to England at Twickenham last February.
Luke McGrath, the only starter retained from last Saturday’s win over Munster, will captain Leinster for the trip to Parc y Scarlets. There is a potential debut off the bench for 19-year-old talent Jamie Osborne.
20-year-old Academy back Max O’Reilly makes his second senior appearance at full-back, with Cian Kelleher on the right wing and Dave Kearney on the left having recovered from a minor hamstring injury that ruled him out last week.
Liam Turner and Ciaran Frawley combine in the centre with stand-in skipper McGrath joined at half-back by Harry Byrne, the province’s leading scorer so far in this season’s PRO14 with 46 points.
Furlong returns alongside Peter Dooley and James Tracy in the front row, and the second row berths are filled this week by Ross Molony and Ryan Baird, who last appeared in the number 6 shirt against Connacht at the start of the month.
Freshly recovered from a minor calf injury, Dan Leavy is part of a strong back row unit that also features Josh Murphy and Jack Conan, the Wicklow man coming in for his first start at number 8 since October.
Blindside flanker Murphy commented: “It’s always a really big window for us in here (during the Six Nations) and all the Academy lads get to come up as well and show their stuff, so training stays really competitive.
“It’s a really good opportunity for people to put their hands up and get some time on the pitch to really show what they can do instead of just in training.
“We’re still a point behind Ulster (at the top of Conference A) so every point counts at the minute and last week’s win (at Munster) doesn’t count for anything unless we back it up this week and try and get back to the top of the table.
“That’s our sole focus at the moment and we’re looking forward to getting out there and putting in a really good performance and hopefully getting the four or five points.”
Squad newcomer Osborne is a former Naas CBS pupil who has come through the Leinster club system with Naas. He played with the North Midlands side in the Shane Horgan Cup.
The teenager is normally based down in the Ken Wall Centre of Excellence in Energia Park but has been training with the Leinster senior team in UCD over the last few months.
Meanwhile, Leinster Rugby undertook the latest round of PCR Testing in UCD yesterday with no positive cases of Covid-19 reported.
One player, who had been isolating because of close contact with a positive family member, reported feeling unwell earlier in the week and was tested outside of Leinster. He tested positive for Covid-19 and will continue to self-isolate from the group in accordance with HSE guidelines.
LEINSTER (v Scarlets): Max O’Reilly, Cian Kelleher, Liam Turner, Ciaran Frawley, Dave Kearney; Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath (capt); Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Josh Murphy, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Ed Byrne, Tom Clarkson, Jack Dunne, Scott Fardy, Hugh O’Sullivan, David Hawkshaw, Jamie Osborne.