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Connors And Jenkins Added To Leinster Pack For Champions Cup Final

Will Connors celebrates after winning 13/4/2024

Will Connors returns to Leinster's starting line-up for the Investec Champions Cup final ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has confirmed the team to play Toulouse in Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London (kick-off 2.45pm).

There are three changes to the side that defeated Northampton Saints 20-17 at the semi-final stage earlier this month, including Hugo Keenan’s first Champions Cup appearance since the round of 16 win over Leicester Tigers.

Keenan, Jason Jenkins, and Will Connors all return to the starting line-up, while Leinster’s four Investec Champions Cup Player of the Year nominees, James Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Sheehan, and captain Caelan Doris, are all also set to start in London.

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Having proven his fitness last week against Ulster following a hip injury, Keenan joins Jordan Larmour and Lowe in the back-three. The 22-year-old Jamie Osborne continues his centre partnership with Robbie Henshaw, with Garry Ringrose’s shoulder injury ruling him out.

Ross Byrne and Gibson-Park start their second successive Champions Cup final together at half-back. Byrne converted all five tries and added two penalties for a 16-point haul when Leinster beat Toulouse 41-22 in their semi-final meeting from twelve months ago.

The province will field the same starting front row from the 2023 decider against La Rochelle, as Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong pack down either side of hooker Sheehan, who has scored seven tries in 13 appearances this season.

Having won the Nevin Spence Men’s 15s Young Player of the Year award earlier this week, Joe McCarthy is part of a heavyweight lock combination with South African Jenkins.

Like the 23-year-old McCarthy, Ryan Baird and Connors have also been handed their first starts in a Champions Cup final. Number 8 Doris skippers the Blues on the occasion of his 80th provincial cap.

The 2018 champions have a power-packed and experienced replacements bench – made up of a six-two split – to call on. There are four players with at least 100 appearances under their belts, while all eight have at least 60 caps.

Veteran prop Cian Healy is set to play in his ninth European final, while fit-again co-captain James Ryan is in line for his only appearance of this season’s knockout stages, having last featured in the pool finale against Leicester.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s mouth-watering clash with the French giants, Cullen said: “There’s plenty of similarities from previous seasons. A lot of Toulouse’s game is based around forward power. People think in terms of some of the ball-playing skills they have, the offload ability they have, they’ve a very strong identity around keeping the ball alive.

“A lot of it is based around some forwards that are big and powerful as well. We need to make sure we’re clued in for that forward battle.

“We’ve got some good forwards that are starting, some excellent forwards coming off the bench as well, so we have a good mix in terms of how we plan to try counter that.”

He added: “I think we’ve a good balance there (in the selection). Hugo got through the game last week, so did James, (it’s) great to have James back.

“I guess from some of the experience we have, we need to make sure we’ve got that level of experience coming off the bench.

“James has been great with the way he’s gone about the week. We need him on the field there to help us win the game at the end. The combination of Jason and Joe, we’ve seen that before.

“He’s such a dynamic player, Josh. We’ve always discussed different ways to get impacts off the bench, and Will has been excellent in the couple of games he’s played, and the role he’ll deliver for the team.

“Hopefully we’ll have a good combination there. With the way the modern game is, in terms of the physicality that the forwards are involved, having some freshness at the end is important for sure.”

LEINSTER (v Toulouse): Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Jamie Osborne, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Joe McCarthy, Jason Jenkins, Ryan Baird, Will Connors, Caelan Doris (capt).

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, James Ryan, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Ciarán Frawley, Josh van der Flier.