Leinster flanker Ryan Baird. Ben Brady/INPHO

Baird backed at lineout as Leinster look for major 6/2 impact

Josh Brennan has been included in Toulouse’s matchday 23.

LEINSTER’S TEAM SELECTION tells us that they have faith in Ryan Baird’s ability as a lineout leader. 

As he did against La Rochelle in the quarter-final, 24-year-old Baird will call the lineouts for Leinster in tomorrow’s Champions Cup final against Toulouse with both James Ryan and Ross Molony – the province’s two leading callers – not included in the starting XV. Indeed, Molony missed out on the matchday 23 altogether.

Baird isn’t hugely experienced as a lineout leader so it’s a big call from Leo Cullen and co., who have evidently seen enough good stuff from the explosive blindside flanker in training and the La Rochelle match when Leinster’s lineout ran at an impressive 91% on their 11 throws. 

As soon as it emerged that Leinster would use Ryan off the bench in this final, you wondered whether Molony’s ability as a lineout operator would edge him into the starting XV but instead Cullen and Jacques Nienaber have gone for the power of Jason Jenkins.

The big South African will bring grunt to the scrum, maul, and tackle area. Though he gave away three penalties when starting against La Rochelle, Jenkins also made some big defensive plays in that game and he’s not just an ogre in attack either. He was good enough to win a Springboks cap and you wouldn’t put it past the 28-year-old to force his way back into that fold when he returns home to join the Sharks at the end of this season.

Co-captain Ryan started and played 80 minutes of last weekend’s defeat to Ulster in the URC on his return from long-term injury but Leinster feel he’s best utilised off the bench against Toulouse.

There’s no doubt that Ryan’s presence in the number 20 jersey as part of the 6/2 split lends Leinster’s bench an imposing hue. 

The thought of Rónan Kelleher, Ryan, Jack Conan, and Josh van der Flier all entering the fray at a similar stage or even at exactly the same time is exciting for Leinster fans who have seen their team fading a little in the final quarter a few times.

will-connors Will Connors in London today. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Cullen referenced how important it will be for Leinster to have experienced heads on the pitch for the endgame and Ryan will certainly bring that.

Van der Flier will bring his unique energy to the second half after Leinster opted for Will Connors at number seven for the third time in this Champions Cup campaign. The previous two starts came against La Rochelle as Connors chopped big ball carriers like Uini Atonio and Will Skelton. He’ll be tasked with doing similar to Emmanuel Meafou and Peato Mauvaka tomorrow in London.

There’s more to Connors’ game than just tackling. He’s good around the rucks, is a deceptively big unit who stands 6ft 5ins tall, and has smooth handling skills. Connors will likely empty the tank for 45 or 50 minutes before making way for van der Flier.

Otherwise, the Leinster pack picked itself and there wasn’t a huge amount to consider in the backline once it was clear that Garry Ringrose wasn’t going to be ready for this final. The brilliant form of 22-year-old centre Jamie Osborne has been heartening in that regard, even if Ringrose can bring a cutting edge on both sides of the ball. 

Jimmy O’Brien is unlucky to miss out given his quality but it would have been difficult to drop Jordan Larmour from the right wing after his major involvement in Leinster reaching the final. Larmour is seemingly enjoying defending in Nienaber’s system and has been back to his hot-stepping best in attack.

It always seemed unlikely that Leinster would go for a 5/3 bench that might have included O’Brien simply because it would have meant leaving out the class of either Conan or van der Flier once they had decided to start Connors. Conan and van der Flier are two seasoned international players and Leinster had to lean into the strengths of their squad, namely the back five of the scrum in this case.

Meanwhile, there weren’t any surprises in the Toulouse team as Ugo Mola named exactly the same starting XV who beat Harlequins in the semi-finals.

It’s still a bit jarring that France fullback Thomas Ramos isn’t in the starting side, especially given his quality off the tee and the sense that taking every point on offer will be key in this final.

ugo-mola-and-thomas-ramos Ugo Mola has left Thomas Ramos on the bench again. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

But Blair Kinghorn started the quarter-final and semi-finals ahead of Ramos, who Toulouse will undoubtedly hope can have a steady influence in the endgame tomorrow, similarly to how Leinster feel Ryan can be a calm presence.

Kinghorn has never seemed like the most confident of place-kickers. He’s been kicking at 72% success in the Champions Cup so far and Mola will hope the Scot has a good day in this area. Kinghorn has been exciting in attack since joining Toulouse mid-season but you sense Leinster will look to challenge him more defensively.

There is one change to the bench as Joshua Brennan, the son of former Leinster man and Toulouse legend Trevor, comes in as the back row cover.

Brennan is a native of Leinster but moved to France as a baby when his father’s career brought the family there, so he has grown up as part of the Toulouse family. Still, it will be a cool experience for Brennan to face Leinster on such a big occasion. 

The stage is set for a thriller.


15. Hugo Keenan
14. Jordan Larmour
13. Robbie Henshaw
12. Jamie Osborne
11. James Lowe
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park 

1. Andrew Porter
2. Dan Sheehan
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Joe McCarthy
5. Jason Jenkins
6. Ryan Baird
7. Will Connors
8. Caelan Doris (captain)


16. Rónan Kelleher
17. Cian Healy 
18. Michael Ala’alatoa
19. James Ryan
20. Jack Conan
21. Luke McGrath
22. Ciarán Frawley
23. Josh van der Flier


15. Blair Kinghorn
14. Juan Cruz Mallia
13. Paul Costes
12. Pita Ahki
11. Matthis Lebel
10. Romain Ntamack
9. Antoine Dupont (captain)

1. Cyril Baille
2. Peato Mauvaka
3. Dorian Aldegheri
4. Thibaud Flament
5. Emmanuel Meafou
6. Jack Willis
7. François Cros
8. Alexandre Roumat


16. Julien Marchand
17. Rodrigue Neti
18. Joel Merkler
19. Richie Arnold
20. Joshua Brennan
21. Paul Graou
22. Santiago Chocobares
23. Thomas Ramos 

Referee: Matthew Carley [RFU].

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