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Baird Slots In For His Second European Start

Baird Slots In For His Second European Start

Ryan Baird makes a break during Leinster's Heineken Champions Cup pool win over Northampton Saints back in December ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

With captain Jonathan Sexton fit to start, Leinster will field a strong team in Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 match against Toulon at the RDS (kick-off 5.30pm).

Sexton has come through the return-to-play protocols and is one of four changes to the side that secured the province’s fourth Guinness PRO14 title in-a-row at the same venue last Saturday.

Luke McGrath hands the captaincy reins back to his half-back partner, with winger James Lowe the only other change to the back-line.

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Hugo Keenan and Jordan Larmour form a potent back-three with Lowe, who comes in on the left flank for his 50th Leinster cap. He has scored 33 tries to date.

Rory O’Loughlin and Robbie Henshaw continue together in midfield, while Tadhg Furlong rejoins Cian Healy and Ronan Kelleher in a powerful front row combination.

Ryan Baird comes in for his second Champions Cup start, with the 21-year-old talent packing down in the second row with Devin Toner, Leinster’s newly-anointed most-capped player of all-time.

With the same back row trio from the Munster game picked again, Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier fill the flanker berths and Jack Conan, last week’s try-scoring player-of-the-match, is at number 8.

Jamison Gibson-Park picked up a knock in training this week, so Hugh O’Sullivan steps in as replacement scrum half and is in line for his first European appearance since 2019.

Ross Byrne has recovered from a knee injury to take his place on the bench, as Leinster look to reach the quarter-final stage for a fifth straight year.

Summing up the mood in camp, openside van der Flier said: “Everyone is very, very motivated. Something we talk about a bit is learning from past losses and Saracens would certainly be on that.

“It would be in our thoughts in terms of how we prepare. We need to prepare as well as we can, especially against a side as good as Toulon.

“Sometimes when it’s knockout rugby you can have an unbelievable team turning up no matter who you play and Toulon are a world-class side. They have some incredible individuals.

“From looking at them, their individual strengths, they’re a pretty impressive outfit. So it will definitely be a big challenge, but the motivation is more than there. Everyone is keen to get going already.”

LEINSTER (v Toulon): Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Rory O’Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Ryan Baird, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Ross Molony, Scott Fardy, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ross Byrne, Dave Kearney.