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20-year-old Leinster pair set for debuts as Connacht look for upset at the RDS

The westerners have lost three in a row leading into this inter-pro clash at the RDS.

Andrew Smith and Max O'Reilly start for Leinster tonight.
Andrew Smith and Max O'Reilly start for Leinster tonight.

WITH POSITIVE COVID-19 cases in both the Leinster and Connacht squads this week, there were fears that this inter-provincial clash would be the latest Guinness Pro14 postponement but it has been given the green light and should be an entertaining encounter.

Andy Friend’s westerners have had a frustrating run of three consecutive defeats and things seem unlikely to be much easier at the RDS this evening [KO 7.35pm, eir Sport, with deferred coverage on TG4 from 8pm].

Connacht will feel they could have taken much more from their recent losses against Racing 92, Bristol, and Ulster but Leinster won’t be in any mood to allow them to get 2021 underway with a momentum-boosting derby victory.

Leinster are firm favourites but the neutrals will hope this fixture is similar to the one we saw between the two provinces at the RDS back in December 2018, a thrilling affair that ended with the home side 33-29 winners.

Leo Cullen’s men didn’t play last weekend due to the postponement of their scheduled clash with Munster, but they have been in machine-like form this season with nine bonus-point wins from nine games in all competitions.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton returns at out-half for Leinster due to Ciarán Frawley being ruled out with injury late this week, so Luke McGrath keeps the Leinster captaincy as initially planned.

The backline outside Sexton contains two exciting young talents in 20-year-old fullback Max O’Reilly and right wing Andrew Smith, both of whom are set for their senior debuts.

O’Reilly and Smith were playing for the Ireland U20s earlier this year and only joined the full Leinster academy in the summer but Cullen and Stuart Lancaster clearly believe they can make an impact in the Pro14.

The Leinster pack has experience and dynamism, with 21-year-old Ryan Baird moving to blindside flanker, while Ed Byrne and Jack Conan are set for their returns from injury off the bench.

ben-odonnell Ben O'Donnell is set for his Connacht debut. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Connacht have a possible debutant of their own off the bench in former World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year nominee Ben O’Donnell, a summer addition from the Australia Sevens programme who has now recovered from a long-term knee injury. He will hope to replicate John Porch’s success.

Friend has made five changes to his starting XV after last weekend’s defeat at home to Ulster, with Peter Sullivan, Dominic Robertson-McCoy, Gavin Thornbury, Alex Wootton and Sean Masterson coming into the team. 

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Connacht will need something very impressive to end their losing run.

Leinster:

15. Max O’Reilly
14. Andrew Smith
13. Jimmy O’Brien
12. Rory O’Loughlin
11. Dave Kearney
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Luke McGrath (captain)

1. Peter Dooley
2. James Tracy
3. Michael Bent
4. Ross Molony
5. Devin Toner
6. Ryan Baird
7. Scott Penny
8. Dan Leavy

Replacements:

16. Seán Cronin
17. Ed Byrne
18. Tom Clarkson
19. Josh Murphy
20. Jack Conan
21. Hugh O’Sullivan
22. Liam Turner
23. Will Connors

Connacht:

15. John Porch
14. Peter Sullivan
13. Sammy Arnold
12. Tom Daly
11. Alex Wootton
10. Jack Carty
9. Caolin Blade

1. Denis Buckley
2. Shane Delahunt
3. Dominic Robertson-McCoy
4. Gavin Thornbury
5. Quinn Roux (captain)
6. Eoghan Masterson
7. Conor Oliver
8. Sean Masterson

Replacements:

16. Jonny Murphy
17. Matthew Burke
18. Conor Kenny
19. Ultan Dillane
20. Cian Prendergast
21. Kieran Marmion
22. Diarmuid Kilgallen
23. Ben O’Donnell

Referee: Chris Busby [IRFU]. 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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