James Ryan and Ronan Kelleher both feature in the Leinster team for Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Leicester Tigers at Mattioli Woods Welford Road (kick-off 5.30pm).
After time out due to a head injury sustained during Ireland’s Six Nations campaign, second row Ryan makes a timely return for his first appearance for the province since October.
Hooker Kelleher is back from a shoulder injury, while Andrew Porter, Tadhg Furlong and Ross Molony complete the tight five. Ryan is the only change to the side that won 56-20 at home to Connacht in the last round.
Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan continue together in the back row, with captain Jonathan Sexton and Jamison Gibson-Park reunited at half-back after Leinster’s frontliners were largely rested for the two-match tour of South Africa.
James Lowe, the Champions Cup’s leading try scorer this season with eight tries, combines again with full-back Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien in the back-three.
Making his 98th Leinster appearance, Garry Ringrose lines out alongside Robbie Henshaw in midfield for what will be the province’s first European meeting with Leicester since their 2011 quarter-final win.
Sexton and Cian Healy, who is on the bench this weekend, are the only two survivors from that game. Current head coach Leo Cullen and retiring lock Devin Toner were also part of the matchday squad.
Of Cullen’s current crop, 21-year-old Academy second row Joe McCarthy is in line for his European debut should he be brought on off the bench. Out-half Ross Byrne is just a single point off 800 points for Leinster.
Dan Sheehan, experienced loosehead Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath and Tommy O’Brien are also among the replacements.
Looking forward to returning to Welford Road where he played for Leicester between 2005 and 2007, Cullen said: “It’s about bringing the right level of intensity and being able to impose our own game. We have an understanding of the type of game that Leicester bring.
“They try to squeeze you so it is making sure that we don’t get too frustrated with some of that because we know they are going to kick a lot and they will try to be aggressive around the breakdown area.
“So, it’s making sure that we get our own detail right because the interpretation of the referee is so key and around the ruck area in particular.
“Some of those calls, I often think there are supporters sitting in the stands wondering what way the arm is going to go with some of those calls, so it is the interpretation of those calls and our guys figuring it out very early in the game.
“We touched on the set piece battle and it’s about making sure we are on top in all of those areas of the game. We have an experienced front row, and an experienced pack at this point in time.”
He added: “Leicester, if you look through their squad now, they’ve such good quality homegrown talent, international players – as in English international players – but then added to that is maybe a dozen players who have played for other international teams.
“So, the quality that they have sprinkled across their squad is huge. It’s going to be a massive test for us because the model is slightly different, we bring through more local guys and homegrown guys.
“We’re lucky that a lot of guys have gone on and progressed to representing Ireland in recent seasons, hopefully we can draw on some of the experiences they’ve had this season and maybe in previous seasons as well.”
LEINSTER (v Leicester Tigers): Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Jonathan Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.
Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Joe McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Tommy O’Brien.