Sunday 22 April 2018

Rob Kearney makes his long-awaited return for Leinster clash as Leo Cullen names 23 for Ulster

Leinster's Rob Kearney during squad training at UCD in Dublin this week. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Leinster's Rob Kearney during squad training at UCD in Dublin this week. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Des Berry

Rob Kearney will return for the first time in seven weeks on the road to Ulster in the PRO14 tomorrow evening at Kingspan Stadium (Kick-off 6.30).

There is a lot on the line for Kearney given how Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has left Simon Zebo out of his squad.

Sean O’Brien will take over from Jonathan Sexton as the captain in a side showing twelve changes from that which thwarted Glasgow in the Champions Cup last week.

Sadly, flanker Josh van der Flier and wing Barry Daly have fallen to injury.

On the other hand, centre Rory O’Loughlin has proven his fitness from a dead leg. 

Coach Leo Cullen will call on ten men named in the Ireland squad for November with four more on the bench.

The difference could just be made up front where all but Jordi Murphy will attend Ireland camp out in Carton House next week.

Leinster: (15-9) R Kearney; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, N Reid, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; (1-8) J McGrath, J Tracy, T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, D Leavy, J Murphy, S O’Brien (capt).

Replacements: (16-23) R Strauss, C Healy, A Porter, R Molony, J Conan; L McGrath, C Marsh, J Larmour.

It will also be a big occasion for Rory Best who makes his 200th appearance for Ulster in the game.

The game will be Best's first start of the season, following his return from injury as a replacement against La Rochelle last Sunday.

Either side of Best, Rodney Ah You also comes into the team at tight-head, with Callum Black completing the front row.

Iain Henderson will continue to captain the side, as he shifts from flanker to lock, with Alan O'Connor retaining his place in the second row.

Jean Deysel, who missed last week's Champions Cup outing due to injury, returns at number 8, with flankers Sean Reidy and Chris Henry selected as the other loose forwards.

Aaron Cairns will make his first senior start as the Ballynahinch RFC clubman is named at scrum-half. He will be partnered at half-back by Australian international Christian Lealiifano.

The Irish-capped duo of Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall are selected in midfield, with Jacob Stockdale, Tommy Bowe and Charles Piutau making up a potent looking back three.

Ulster: (15-9) C Piutau, T Bowe, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, C Lealiifano, A Cairns; (1-8) C Black, R Best, R Ah You, A O'Connor, I Henderson (C), S Reidy, C Henry, J Deysel.

Replacements (16-23): R Herring, A Warwick, R Kane, K Treadwell, R Diack, J Stewart, P Nelson, L Ludik.

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