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Leinster and Munster with some key selection decisions to confirm

The reigning champions have options in their back three, while Johann van Graan could make a back row change.

THE EXPECTATION IS that Leinster and Munster’s starting XVs for Friday night will be very similar to the sides that clashed two weekends ago but there are likely to be a handful of changes for the Guinness Pro14 semi-final.

The match day 23s will be officially announced at midday on Thursday, with plenty to look forward to.

Leinster will definitely have a change in their back three due to Dave Kearney’s hamstring injury and it’s a fascinating selection decision for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.

hugo-keenan Hugo Keenan is in the mix to start in Leinster's back three. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

34-year-old Rob Kearney could be used at fullback – with Jordan Larmour potentially on the right wing – to add aerial skills, with Leinster expecting aerial tests from Munster scrum-half Conor Murray, but Hugo Keenan and Cian Kelleher – who played on the wings last weekend against Ulster – are also strong options.

24-year-old Keenan is now primarily a fullback but started on the right wing last weekend and if he continues there, Larmour would remain at fullback. It would be the biggest selection in Keenan’s career to date but he has impressed over the course of the 2019/20 season.

The rest of Leinster’s backline would appear to pick itself with Luke McGrath, captain Johnny Sexton, James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, and Garry Ringrose looking likely to return to the starting XV.

Caelan Doris and Jack Conan were strong in the back row against Munster last time out, but it will be intriguing to see how Leinster make up their back row. Will Connors’ superb defensive performance against Ulster last weekend has put real pressure on Josh van der Flier for the openside flanker spot.

Ryan Baird was impressive in the second row against Munster but there is temptation for Leinster to go with the experienced pair of Scott Fardy and Devin Toner for this knock-out tie on Friday.

James Ryan and Dan Leavy are potentially back in the mix after featuring in the warm-up before the Ulster game but Friday may come too soon for them in their recoveries from shoulder and knee injuries, respectively. After around 18 months out of the game, it would be a real shock for Leavy to return in a semi-final.

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Cian Healy and Ronan Kelleher seem likely to be joined by Andrew Porter in the starting front row, with Tadhg Furlong remaining a doubt with the same back injury that has kept him out of the past two weekends, although a return for the Wexford man to the matchday 23 would be a boost.

jack-odonoghue-comes-up-against-conor-fitzgerald Jack O'Donoghue could return to the Munster XV. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As for Munster, there will be a call between Jeremy Loughman and James Cronin at loosehead, with Niall Scannell and John Ryan likely to continue in the front row.

Tadhg Beirne and Fineen Wycherley’s strong second row performance against Connacht will almost certainly see them start again on Friday, while captain Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander are obviously nailed on in the back row.

Jack O’Donoghue’s lively showing off the bench on Sunday may well be enough for him to displace Chris Cloete in the number seven shirt for Munster.

The Munster backline of Conor Murray, JJ Hanrahan, Keith Earls, Damian de Allende, Chris Farrell, Andrew Conway, and Shane Daly could be in line for a third consecutive start together having shown positive signs over the last two weekends.

The bench selections will be interesting too, with both provinces potentially going for 6/2 splits of forwards and backs.

Munster used that split against Connacht on Sunday, while Leinster did so so in the clash two weekends ago – although it meant they ended up with back row Max Deegan playing on the wing.

- This article was updated at 8.56am to correct ’2018/19 season’ to ’2019/20 season’ in the third paragraph, then at 3.44pm to correct ‘second row’ to ‘back row in the 12th par.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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