There are nine changes to the Leinster team to host Vodacom Bulls in the opening round of the United Rugby Championship at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm).
Jonathan Sexton captains the province from out-half, as they return to the scene of their recent 40-21 pre-season victory over a highly-rated Harlequins.
The game is being run at 75% of the Aviva Stadium capacity and tickets for this meeting of the reigning URC champions and the reigning Currie Cup champions are still on sale here.
Hugo Keenan and Rory O’Loughlin join James Lowe in the back-three, while Garry Ringrose and Ciaran Frawley have both fully recovered from shoulder injuries to start.
The experienced Sexton and Luke McGrath team up again at half-back, with the former handed the captaincy reins for the fourth straight year.
Up front, Andrew Porter has recovered from a foot injury and will start in the number 1 jersey for Leinster for the first time since November 2016.
Intriguingly, as Porter reverts to loosehead, Cian Healy is also set for a move across the scrum. He will be the province’s replacement tighthead for the visit of the South African side.
Dan Sheehan, who scored six tries last season, fills the hooker berth and Samoan international Michael Ala’alatoa, who moved north from Crusaders, makes his competitive debut in the number 3 shirt.
Ross Molony and James Ryan will pack down together in the second row, and Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris make their seasonal bows, alongside Rhys Ruddock in the loose forwards.
Joining Healy on the bench is the fit-again Max Deegan who is gearing up for his first competitive appearance for Leinster since October 2020. He was a long-term absentee due to an ACL injury.
Speaking about the team’s determination to make a fast start to the revamped competition, full-back Keenan said: “Yeah, 100%. Especially with the opposition we’re playing against this week.
“The Bulls are a serious, serious side, so it’s going to be a serious challenge. It’s a five-game block for the first window.
“With the calibre of teams in it and less games around those international windows, it becomes more important to put yourself in a good position early so you are not chasing points at the end of the year.”
LEINSTER (v Vodacom Bulls): Hugo Keenan; Rory O’Loughlin, Garry Ringrose, Ciaran Frawley, James Lowe; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Cian Healy, Ryan Baird, Max Deegan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne, Jamie Osborne.