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Leinster Fully Loaded For Champions Cup Decider

Leinster Fully Loaded For Champions Cup Decider

Tighthead Tadhg Furlong is pictured in action during Leinster's Heineken Champions Cup semi-final victory over Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

For Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final against La Rochelle in Marseille (kick-off 5.45pm local time/4.45pm Irish time), Leinster will field the same 23 players that overcame Toulouse a fortnight ago.

Tadhg Furlong and James Lowe have shaken off their respective ankle and shin injuries to start, while hooker Ronan Kelleher has passed the graduated return-to-play protocols.

21-year-old Academy lock Joe McCarthy, a European debutant in the semi-final, features on the bench and versatile back Ciaran Frawley, who picked up a facial injury against Munster, is also part of the matchday 23.

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As Leinster aim for their fifth Champions Cup title, and first since 2018, there are a number of milestones being reached this weekend, namely for centres Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw and veteran prop Cian Healy.

Ringrose will make his 100 Leinster appearance, Henshaw hits the 50-match mark in the Champions Cup, and Healy is set to play his 100th game in Europe – 97th in the top tier competition.

Captain Jonathan Sexton and Jamison Gibson-Park spearhead the Blues’ back-line again, with Lowe combining with two first-time Champions Cup finalists, Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien, in the back-three.

Kelleher and Furlong will pack down with Andrew Porter, supported from the second row by the in-form Ross Molony and James Ryan.

Caelan Doris and Josh van der Flier, two of the nominees for the EPCR European Player of the Year award, complete the province’s starting XV alongside fellow back rower Jack Conan, at number 8.

Leo Cullen and his fellow coaches will be able to call on Dan Sheehan, Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne and Frawley from the bench.

Leinster have met La Rochelle just once before in the Champions Cup, with Ronan O’Gara’s charges triumphing 32-23 at home during the semi-final stage last season.

It will be the fifth time that an Irish team has faced a Top 14 club in a European Cup final, with Irish sides having won on each of the previous four occasions – including Leinster against Racing 92 in Bilbao four years ago.

This is Leinster’s sixth European Cup final appearance. Saracens handed them their only defeat in the showpiece game, back in 2019 in Newcastle.

Centre Henshaw has experience of lifting the trophy and also missing out against Sarries, the Athlone man saying: “I think it means everything. Looking back on previous years we’ve come up short. We’re eager to do it this time and everyone is.

“It’s huge for Leinster. The history of this competition, it’s such a special competition to win. There’s a really good sense of excitement, nerves and buzz around the place. It’s brilliant.

“Three years has been a long time (getting back to the final). Especially throughout what everyone has been through in the past couple of years (with the Covid-19 pandemic), it feels longer (almost).

“As a group we’ve done a lot of learning over the last three years. We’ve looked back and we’ve looked at where we’ve come up short in those games.

“We’ve done the learning and now it’s time to take action and make sure we don’t have to go through another year (of learning).”

LEINSTER (v La Rochelle): 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, Ciaran Frawley.