Heineken Cup team news: Gopperth picked ahead of Madigan, Pienaar starts, O'Mahony returns for Munster
There have been a number of eye-catching selections after all three Irish provinces announced their starting lineups for this weekend's mouthwatering Heineken Cup action.
Jimmy Gopperth has been preferred to Ian Madigan at number 10 for Leinster's clash with Heineken Cup champions Toulon in France on Sunday.
Dave Kearney has shaken off a knock received in training last week back in the XV at the expense of Luke Fitzgerald, who drops out of the matchday 23.
There are two changes in the pack with Cian Healy and Rhys Ruddock back from ankle and calf injuries respectively.
Healy starts for the 125th time in Leinster colours as the Clontarf club man makes a first start since the Six Nations win in Paris three weeks ago. Fellow Irish internationals Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross complete the front row.
Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy are once again the second row combination with Leo Cullen held in reserve.
Rhys Ruddock is back in place of Kevin McLaughlin, with Shane Jennings and captain Jamie Heaslip completing the back row.
Coach Matt O'Connor explained some of the decisions and admitted that the selection process had not been easy.
"We have trained really well all week. A full squad and everyone at full tilt is not something we have had at our disposal in quite a while,"he said.
"That creates challenges for us as a coaching group but the players have brought a great intensity to the paddock all week and each and every one of them has put their hands up.
"There are disappointed blokes left behind, but we also have a 23 that we believe are more than capable of delivering a performance.
"This is a huge battle and we are under no illusions. Going down to the Stade Felix Mayol is not for the faint hearted. We have huge respect for what they bring to the contest.
"They are the current Heineken Cup champions and rightly favourites. But we are ready for the battle. We have a fit squad that are relishing the enormity of the challenge that we face."
O'Connor also alluded to the experience that his squad has and that this is a key factor as they head off to France.
"This will be a squad effort and this squad has experience of big games and of grinding out big results when the odds are against them," he added.
"To quote a military term we are a leaderful group. Our squad is full of guys who understand the psychology of cup rugby and like our opponents have been to the summit of this amazing competition and want to revisit it.
"Our leaders have guided us to three away wins in the group stages and mentally we are a very resilient team ready for the challenge that awaits us on Sunday."
Leinster team to face Toulon: (15-9) R Kearney, F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, D Kearney, J Gopperth, E Reddan; (1-8) C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, M McCarthy, D Toner, R Ruddock, S Jennings, J Heaslip.
Replacements: (16-23) S Cronin, J McGrath, M Moore, L Cullen, J Murphy, I Boss, I Madigan, Z Kirchner.
Toulon: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, David Smith; Jonny Wilkinson (Capt.), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Craig Burden, Carl Hayman ; Danie Rossouw, Jocelino Suta ; Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage.
Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Florian Fresia, Martin Castrogiovanni, Virgile Bruni, Bryan Habana, Maxime Mermoz, Michael Claassens, Konstantine Mikautadze
There is also huge news for Munster with Peter O'Mahony fit reclaim his number six shirt to captain the side against Toulouse in Thomond tomorrow.
James Downey returns at inside centre in the only other change from the starting XV that took on Leinster last weekend.
With the returning O'Mahony, CJ Stander moves to the replacements while John Ryan takes the place of James Cronin who is ruled out with an ankle sprain.
Alan Cotter and Gerhard van den Heever, who was one of three players added to the Heineken Cup squad in March, are both named in their first match-day Heineken Cup squad.
Munster team to face Toulouse: (15-9) F Jones, K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo, I Keatley, C Murray; (1-8) D Kilcoyne, E Varley, BJ Botha, D Foley, P O'Connell , P O'Mahony captain, T O'Donnell, J Coughlan
Replacements: (16-23) D Casey, J Ryan, A Cotter, D O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan , G van den Heever.
Toulouse: Maxime Médard; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Gael Fickou, Hosea Gear; Lionel Beauxis, Jano Vermaak; Gurthro Steenkamp, Christopher Tolofua, Yohan Montes; Yoann Maestri, Patricio Albacete (Capt.); Yacouba Camara, Joe Tekori, Louis Picamoles .
Replacements: Jaba Bregvadze, Cyril Baille, Schalk Ferreira, Romain Millo-Chluski, Gillian Galan, Jean-Marc Doussain, Luke McAlister, Yannick Nyanga.
Ulster have been boosted by the return of Ruan Pienaar who starts at scrumhalf for the province's last eight clash with Saracens tomorrow evening at Ravenhill.
The World-Cup winner starts at scrumhalf with Ireland international, Paddy Jackson, selected at outhalf.
British and Irish Lion, Tommy Bowe, one of eleven players in the squad to have made more than 100 appearances for the Province, is named on the left wing, with Andrew Trimble, who is one of four starters to have made more than 150 appearances for Ulster, selected on the right.
International centres, Luke Marshall and Darren Cave, continue their partnership in midfield with Jared Payne, who qualifies to play for Ireland later this year, starting at fullback.
Lion, Tom Court, starts the game at loosehead, alongside two-time RBS 6 Nations winner Rory Best and World Cup winning All Black tighthead, John Afoa.
Johann Muller, who won the World Cup with South Africa, captains Ulster from the second-row, where he is joined by international lock Dan Tuohy.
Ireland internationals Roger Wilson and Chris Henry are named in the backrow with 2013 RaboDirect Players’ Player of the Year, Nick Williams, selected at Number 8.
There are four Ireland internationals on the bench with Stephen Ferris, Iain Henderson, Craig Gilroy and Paul Marshall, joined by Rob Herring Ricky Lutton, Robbie Diack and Andrew Warwick.
Ulster team to face Saracens: (15-9) J Payne, A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, T Bowe, P Jackson, R Pienaar; (1-8): T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (Captain), D Tuohy, R Wilson, N Williams, C Henry.
Replacements (16-23): R Herring, A Warwick, R Lutton, I Henderson, S Ferris, R Diack, P Marshall, C Gilroy.
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Duncan Taylor, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, James Johnston; Steve Borthwick (Capt.), Mouritz Botha, Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger, Ernst Joubert.
Replacements: Jamie George, Richard Barrington, Matt Stevens, Eoin Sheriff, Kelly Brown, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles.
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