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Ryan Returns As Leinster Includes Five European Debutants

Ryan Returns As Leinster Includes Five European Debutants

James Ryan is back to captain Leinster for their second round encounter with Montpellier ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Second row James Ryan returns from a head injury to captain Leinster for the first time in the Heineken Champions Cup on Friday.

He will lead the province into battle against Montpellier at the GGL Stadium (kick-off 9pm local time/8pm Irish time), with both teams’ preparations hampered by Covid-19 issues.

There are eight personnel changes to the side that beat Bath 45-20, and a notable positional switch sees the in-form Andrew Porter scrummaging this week at tighthead.

20-year-old Academy back Jamie Osborne, a proud product of Naas RFC, makes his Champions Cup debut, combining with Ciaran Frawley in a new centre pairing.

The Kildare connection continue with Jimmy O’Brien featuring at full-back and Adam Byrne coming in on the right wing. After recently return from long-term injury, it will be Byrne’s first European start since January 2019.

James Lowe, Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park are retained as they complete the back-line, while stand-in skipper Ryan and Cian Healy, set for his 239th Leinster appearance, are the two changes to the tight five.

Ryan pairs up with Ryan Baird in the engine room, and Wicklow man Jack Conan has recovered from a quad injury to anchor the back row, alongside Max Deegan and Dan Leavy.

It will be Leavy’s first European start in just over three years, while head coach Leo Cullen could hand out four more Champions Cup debuts off a youthful bench.

Vakh Abdaladze, Jack Dunne, Academy scrum half Cormac Foley, who has been impressing for Lansdowne in the Energia All-Ireland League, and Scott Penny are the aforementioned quartet.

The Leinster squad and staff will leave Dublin airport on Friday morning ahead of the late evening kick-off in France.

Speaking about the squad’s Covid-affected build-up, which included cancelling Monday’s training session, Cullen said: “For Europe you were allowed to have a very extended squad. We have 60-odd players, so we’ve been lucky.

“So many of our guys in that 60 are Academy guys. For this period we actually just decided to move a lot of those guys back down to Energia (Park) to train down there separately.

“We’ve tried to make some of those precautions over the last couple of weeks just in terms of that forward planning piece. We’d have a lot of confidence, similar to what Munster had.

“It was great to see some of those guys go so well. A lot of those guys we would have seen at underage level. Scott Buckley, I met when he was much younger down in Kinsale with his grandfather. It was amazing to see him go in.

“That’s one of the things that excites me most about doing the job that we do. Seeing the young players come in and make their debuts in Europe. I know it wasn’t planned, but it was amazing the job some of those guys did.”

LEINSTER (v Montpellier): Jimmy O’Brien; Adam Byrne, Jamie Osborne, Ciaran Frawley, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, James Ryan (capt), Max Deegan, Dan Leavy, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Ed Byrne, Vakh Abdaladze, Devin Toner, Jack Dunne, Cormac Foley, Tommy O’Brien, Scott Penny.