Debutants Jason Jenkins and Charlie Ngatai have been included in the Leinster team to play Zebre Parma in Saturday’s BKT United Rugby Championship opener at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi (kick-off 2pm local time/1pm Irish time).
Rhys Ruddock captains Leo Cullen’s men from the back row, where he starts alongside Scott Penny and Max Deegan, two members of the newly-announced Emerging Ireland squad.
Ronan Kelleher, who missed the end of last season through injury, returns in the front row with Ed Byrne and Michael Ala’alatoa either side of him. Ross Molony joins South African Jenkins at lock.
The familiar pairing of Ross Byrne and Luke McGrath are selected together at half-back, with the province’s other new cap, former All Black Ngatai, joining Jamie Osborne, who is now promoted from the Academy, in midfield.
Cullen and his fellow coaches are able to welcome back Dave Kearney from injury for the new campaign. He lines out on the left wing with Academy duo Rob Russell and Max O’Reilly completing the back-three.
There is also a welcome return from injury for Will Connors who takes his place among the replacements.
Speaking earlier this week as Leinster look to put a disappointing end to last season behind them, head coach Cullen said: “For us, with a lot of young guys and other guys coming back from injury, it was pleasing (to get a 26-21 win over Harlequins in our only pre-season game).
“Jason and Charlie both got through 40 minutes, which was good to see, getting a Leinster jersey on their backs and start to build some of those connections.
“Charlie has got a wealth of experience, different environments, teams he’s been involved in. He played with the All Blacks, granted it was only one cap, but he has been away in France for the last number of years so he has experience in Europe, he gets the game there.
“He’ll hopefully add a lot. As I said, it was a pretty young group that travelled over (to play Harlequins) and he was a very important voice in that group.
“Jason missed a lot of pre-season, he had a finger issue when he arrived here. That needed to get tidied up so he had a procedure on that.
“He only started full team training the week before the pre-season game, but in terms of physical size and presence, it was great for him to get 40 minutes under his belt. Hopefully the two of them will push on.”
LEINSTER (v Zebre Parma): Max O’Reilly; Rob Russell, Jamie Osborne, Charlie Ngatai, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Ed Byrne, Ronan Kelleher, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ross Molony, Jason Jenkins, Rhys Ruddock (capt), Scott Penny, Max Deegan.
Replacements: John McKee, Michael Milne, Vakh Abdaladze, Brian Deeny, Alex Soroka, Nick McCarthy, Ciaran Frawley, Will Connors.