Johnny Sexton returns to competitive rugby for the first time since limping from the international fray in November with a dead leg — but he has been dumped as Leinster captain as scrum-half partner Luke McGrath takes over for tomorrow’s clash with Connacht.
That’s because Ciaran Frawley was slated to feature this week before missing out and, as McGrath had led the side all week in training, continuity informs the decision to retain his status despite the return of the Irish captain.
Leinster hand out two debuts. At full-back, 20-year-old Max O’Reilly — who is in year one of the Leinster Rugby Academy, is a native of Enniskerry in Wicklow and a former pupil of St. Gerard’s School in Bray — starts his first senior game.
In the back three with O’Reilly is Andrew Smith, making his debut on the right wing, and Dave Kearney, who is selected on the left.
Smith, who is also 20 years of age and in year one of the Academy, is a former St. Michael’s College pupil and won a Bank of Ireland Leinster Rugby Schools Senior Cup in 2019. He has also represented Ireland Under-20s as recently as the 2020 Six Nations.
Elsewhere, Michael Bent packs down for his 150th appearance, while the back-row is an all-St. Michael’s College affair with Ryan Baird, Scott Penny and Dan Leavy selected to start in Cullen’s first match- day XV of 2021.
On the bench, Ed Byrne and Jack Conan make a welcome return from injury.
Meanwhile, Ben O’Donnell is in line to make his Connacht debut. The former World Sevens Player of the Year nominee joined the province last summer but has been forced to wait for his first appearance after recovering from a serious knee injury. The back three player is named among the replacements and there are five changes to the starting XV that lined out against Ulster last weekend.
Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh’s postponed Guinness PRO14 derby clash has been rescheduled for next Friday after league chiefs decided to shelve the capital club’s trip to Italy in a bid to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Leinster: Max O’Reilly; Andrew Smith, Jimmy O’Brien, Rory O’Loughlin, Dave Kearney; Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Devin Toner, Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Dan Leavy.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Ed Byrne, Tom Clarkson, Josh Murphy, Jack Conan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Liam Turner, Will Connors.
Connacht: John Porch; Peter Sullivan, Sammy Arnold, Tom Daly, Alex Wootton; Jack Carty, Caolin Blade; Denis Buckley, Shane Delahunt, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Quinn Roux, Eoghan Masterson, Conor Oliver, Sean Masterson.
Replacements: Jonny Murphy, Matthew Burke, Conor Kenny, Ultan Dillane, Cian Prendergast, Kieran Marmion, Diarmuid Kilgallen, Ben O’Donnell.