Evan Treacy/INPHO Leinster loosehead Andrew Porter.
big hitters

'It's great to have that power' - Return of Porter and Kelleher adds punch to Leinster pack

The two Ireland internationals are back from injury to start against Connacht at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow.

IF CONNACHT NEEDED any reminder of the challenge facing them at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow, they got it when Leo Cullen revealed his starting XV earlier today.

While Connacht have made one switch in their starting team – scrum-half Caolan Blade coming in for Kieran Marmion – Leinster have opted for three changes, bringing in a trio of Ireland internationals to add even more quality and power to their side, as they look to finish the job following last weekend’s 26-21 win in Galway.

Andrew Porter and Ronan Kelleher return to form a formidable front row alongside Tadhg Furlong, while the sole change in the Leinster backline sees Jamison Gibson-Park start alongside captain Johnny Sexton in the half-backs.

Having come off the bench at The Sportsground, and escaped sanction following his citing for a tackle on Marmion during that first leg tie, Gibson-Park’s inclusion means Leinster line out with Ireland’s starting half-back pairing from the Six Nations, while Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne provide high-quality cover off the bench.

“Well Jamison and Johnny worked well together in terms of the Six Nations,” explains Leinster head coach, Leo Cullen.

“We’re just sort of tweaking with a few combinations as well. There’s lots of things we do very similar to Ireland, but there’s a few little subtleties and tweaks as well. So it’s just making sure we’re all getting back on the same page, there’s no right or wrong to any of these (selections), but there’s some subtle differences.

“But yeah, in terms of Johnny and Jamison, they played together a lot during the Six Nations. It was the other combinations over the last couple of weeks that we wanted to have a look at.

“We’ll see how the guys go, great experience (between them). For us having that level of half-backs off the bench is hugely important to us as well and you can see how we’ve mixed and matched those guys over the course of the last number of seasons.

In terms of that depth piece over the course of those tournaments that we’re trying to compete in, that’s so important for us to have that, and we’re blessed with the quality of those guys.”

The return of both Porter and Kelleher is significant too, the pair both coming back in for the first time since their respective injuries in the Six Nations, making Connacht’s job around the scrum all the more difficult tomorrow evening – with Cian Healy a notable absence from the 23. Cullen also explained that winger Jordan Larmour narrowly missed out as he steps up his own recovery from injury.

“Yeah it’s huge, all the lads trained towards the end of last week, to bring Andrew and Ronan back in, that front row has worked together quite a bit and it’s a great combination to have,” Cullen added.

ronan-kelleher Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Ronan Kelleher during Thursday's Captain's Run at the Aviva Stadium. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“Andrew, when he moved from tighthead to loosehead at the start of the season, he’s a remarkable character and was going incredibly well until the injury to his ankle.

“Ronan has been training a bit longer because he’s been able to do more, the two of them bring a lot of power in particular.

“Jordan (Larmour) was a little unlucky, he could come back into the team next week but it’s great to have that power, it’s much needed.

“The obvious thing is the start – start the game well. Connacht had us under the pump when they score the try at the start of the game.

“There were some parts of the game when we were strong, in the scrum in particular, it’s just trying to go after areas like that to establish dominance.

It’s going to be a great contest again, both teams want to have a strong attacking intent and one of Connacht’s strengths is their phase attack and playing flat to the line, just defensively we have to be a bit sounder.

“It would be nice to get a good start to give us some control.

“We have to make sure our players have that emotional control (too), it’s hugely important, the occasion is very important but we have to get to the pitch of the game and make sure we’re in the right headspace, and make sure we’re not over-aroused, I think that’s the right phrase.

“For us it’s a new game, a one-off, it’s just a knock-out game for us and yeah, it’s all in the balance really. It’s 0-0, we have five points to play with but it’s such a small margin.”

In the final episode of the series, The Front Row – The42’s new rugby podcast in partnership with Guinness – welcomes comedian Killian Sundermann in to studio. The online funnyman fills us in on his schools rugby days, gaining recognition during the pandemic, making his stand-up debut and travelling around Europe in a van. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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