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Seven changes for Leinster, including a recall for Johnny Sexton

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Leinster have made seven changes to their Champions Cup starting XV following last weekend’s URC win over Munster, including the recall of Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton to start at No10 away to Connacht at the Sportsground. The game in Galway will the 36-year-old veteran’s first outing for his province since January 22 at Bath and his first match since leading Ireland to their Triple Crown success on March 19 versus Scotland.  

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Sexton is chosen ahead of Ross Byrne in the Leinster team but he curiously won’t start alongside his Ireland half-back partner Jamison Gibson-Park. The Kiwi scrum-half began last week’s league game at Munster as the Leinster No9 but he now drops to the bench as Luke McGrath has been selected in a backline that is otherwise unchanged.

It’s in the pack where the other five Leinster changes are, Leo Cullen opting to go with an entirely different tight-five against Connacht than the front and second rows that started at Thomond Park. Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong take over from Ed Byrne, James Tracy and Michael Ala’alatoa in the front row while Ross Molony and Josh Murphy start at lock in place of Devin Toner and Jack Dunne. 

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There are fears that the two-legged all-Irish round of 16 encounter could be a one-sided affair as Leinster hammered Connacht in Galway just a fortnight ago in the URC, but the legendary Brian O’Driscoll isn’t so sure. He told RugbyPass: “That’s the only fixture that you might have any nervousness around. I fancy Connacht to deliver a better performance than they did a couple of weeks ago.

“Over two legs, the scoreline might be a bit bigger than you would hope for but I can’t see that in any of the other fixtures. Stade-Racing maybe, but Stade at home are difficult to beat and then all the others, they will all be relatively close games over two legs so that is what makes it very exciting.”

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CONNACHT: 15. Tiernan O’Halloran; 14. John Porch, 13. Tom Farrell, 12. Bundee Aki, 11. Mack Hansen; 10. Jack Carty (capt), 9. Kieran Marmion; 1. Matthew Burke, 2. David Heffernan, 3. Finlay Bealham, 4. Gavin Thornbury, 5. Leva Fifita, 6. Cian Prendergast, 7. Conor Oliver, 8. Jarrad Butler. Reps: 16. Dylan Tierney Martin, 17. Tietie Tuimauga, 18. Jack Aungier, 19. Oisin Dowling, 20. Abraham Papali’i, 21. Caolin Blade, 22. Conor Fitzgerald, 23. Sam Arnold.

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LEINSTER: 15. Hugo Keenan, 14. Jimmy O’Brien, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. James Lowe; 10. Johnny Sexton (capt), 9. Luke McGrath; 1. Cian Healy, 2. Dan Sheehan, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Ross Molony, 5. Josh Murphy, 6. Caelan Doris, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan. Reps: 16. James Tracy, 17. Ed Byrne, 18. Michael Ala’alatoa, 19. Devin Toner 20. Max Deegan, 21. Jamison Gibson-Park, 22. Ross Byrne, 23. Ciaran Frawley.

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