Leinster and Ulster have each revealed selection surprises ahead of Saturday night’s Guinness PRO14 final at the Aviva Stadium, Leo Cullen opting to put legendary skipper Johnny Sexton on the bench while the visitors have dropped scrum-half John Cooney.
With Saracens coming to Dublin on Saturday week for the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final, Leinster have decided to start with Ross Byrne as their out-half with Ireland captain Sexton held in reserve despite his excellence last week in eliminating Munster.
With Garry Ringrose now a first-time captain for the club that are chasing an unprecedented hat-trick of PRO14 titles, Cullen has also made an eye-catching switch at second row as James Ryan returns for his first game of the restarted 2019/20 campaign following injury.
His return to rude health is matched by Ulster, who have skipper Iain Henderson involved for the first time post-lockdown after he too had been absent through injury.
However, their main selection surprise is the demotion of Cooney to the bench. The scrum-half won multiple man of the match awards before the season was suspended in March, prompting calls that he should replace Conor Murray as Ireland No9.
This is what happens when you're without a trophy in 1??4?? years and have to face high-flying Leinster
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 10, 2020
But with his form not as polished since last month’s restart, Alby Mathewson, the Kiwi who was at Munster until last December, now comes in for Ulster following his excellent effort as a replacement in the last-gasp semi-final win at Edinburgh last Saturday.
Boss Dan McFarland has also opted for a six/two split on his bench, which highlights how they need to throw everything into the forwards battle if they are to end a trophy drought that stretches back to 2006.
LEINSTER: 15. Jordan Larmour; 14. Hugo Keenan, 13. Garry Ringrose (capt), 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. James Lowe; 10. Ross Byrne, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park; 1. Cian Healy, 2. Ronan Kelleher, 3. Andrew Porter, 4. Devin Toner, 5. James Ryan, 6. Caelan Doris, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan. Reps: 16. James Tracy, 17. Ed Byrne, 18. Michael Bent, 19. Scott Fardy, 20. Will Connors, 21. Luke McGrath, 22. Johnny Sexton, 23. Rory O’Loughlin.
ULSTER: 15. Michael Lowry; 14. Rob Lyttle, 13. James Hume, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Jacob Stockdale; 10. Billy Burns, 9. Alby Mathewson; 1. Eric O’Sullivan, 2. Rob Herring, 3. Tom O’Toole, 4. Alan O’Connor, 5. Iain Henderson (capt), 6. Matthew Rea, 7. Sean Reidy, 8. Marcell Coetzee. Reps: 16. John Andrew, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Marty Moore, 19. Sam Carter, 20. Jordi Murphy, 21. John Cooney, 22. Ian Madigan, 23. Nick Timoney.
Leinster assistant has his fingers crossed ? https://t.co/0EIR0Vcesp
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 9, 2020
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