Leinster boss Leo Cullen today hailed the return of two potential World Cup stars to provincial colours after injury ruined their November international challenge.
ónan Kelleher will make his first appearance since September for Leinster against Glasgow in the RDS tomorrow night in the URC as he begins his personal countdown to next year’s World Cup.
And Harry Byrne will also be hoping to put a deeply disappointing start to the season behind him as he prepares to make a return from the bench after hamstring trouble, in a month when he toppled down the Irish out-half pecking order.
“Rónan has obviously been very unlucky with his injury but he’s coming back now and he’ll be fresh coming into this big block of games coming up,” said coach Leo Cullen at the RDS today.
“The way the URC is now with the 18-game format, it’s pretty tight in certain places in the table and there are big consequences with European qualification and all the rest into next season. And also we have European games in this block. Because there are only four games, there is no room for error.
“So it’s good to have those guys back in. Rónan played an early round and picked up what seemed like something innocuous at the time but he did a bit more damage.
“The other guys have been careful in managing him back in. Harry was due to play a club match before November and then he had a set-back. But he is back now and it is huge for the two lads who can hopefully play a part in the next ten weeks.”
With team-mate Dan Sheehan edging his way convincingly as a central cog of Andy Farrell’s all-conquering Irish side, Kelleher will also be hoping to announce his return to full fitness.
Kelleher missed out on the November clean sweep for the Irish due to a hamstring issue after also missing the summer tour to New Zealand in what has been a deeply frustrating period for the 24-year-old.
Jamie Osborne will start only his second game at full back having last started there against Edinburgh in February. After starring against Chile last week, Rob Russell starts on the right wing, with Dave Kearney on the left.
Charlie Ngatai is in the centre alongside last week’s captain, Liam Turner, while Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne are the half-backs.
Glasgow coach Franco Smith welcomes back nine internationals, seven of whom were involved in Scotland camp for the recent Autumn Nations Series, including recent international debutants Murphy Walker and Jack Dempsey.
The tight five is unchanged from the club’s most recent URC outing, with the front-row trio of Oli Kebble, Fraser Brown and Walker having started in last month’s 37-0 victory over Benetton at Scotstoun.
Having made his professional debut in the win over Benetton, Alex Samuel retains his place in the second row, joining Sintu Manjezi – an ever-present in the 2022/23 season to date – in the engine room.
The only change to the pack comes in the back-row, as Dempsey’s inclusion at number eight sees Sione Vailanu move to the openside and Gregor Brown shift to blindside flanker.
George Horne and Tom Jordan resume their combination in the half-backs, the former having scored more points than any other Warrior in the competition to date.
Kyle Steyn captains the side from outside centre, linking up with fellow Scotland squad member Stafford McDowall in the midfield.
An unchanged back-three sees Rufus McLean and Sebastian Cancelliere provide pace aplenty on the wings, with Josh McKay completing the starting line-up at full-back.
Two further Scotland internationals are included amongst the replacements, as Jamie Bhatti and Ross Thompson return to the fold after being involved with Gregor Townsend’s outfit during the Autumn Nations Series.
Johnny Matthews and Simon Berghan join Bhatti as the front-row cover, having both come off the bench in the victory over Benetton.
JP du Preez and Lewis Bean cover the tight-five, whilst Euan Ferrie – another to have made his first appearance for the club against Benetton last time out – is included amongst a six-two split of forwards and backs on the bench.
Jamie Dobie rounds out the matchday 23, the scrum-half joining Thompson as the cover behind the scrum for tomorrow afternoon’s encounter.
“Tomorrow is an opportunity to measure ourselves against a strong Leinster side,” said Smith.
“We were pleased with how we ended our last block of games with our win over Benetton and we plan to carry that momentum into this important block.
“Tomorrow is the start of the next part of our journey as we continue to build our squad and our performances.”
Leinster – J Osborne; R Russell, L Turner, C Ngatai, D Kearney; R Byrne, L McGrath; E Byrne, R Kelleher, T Clarkson, R Molony, J McCarthy, R Ruddock (capt), S Penny, M Deegan.
Replacements – J McKee, M Milne, V Abdaladze, J Jenkins, R Baird, C Foley, H Byrne, C Cosgrave.
Glasgow Warriors – J McKay; S Cancelliere, K Steyn (capt), S McDowall, R McLean; T Jordan, G Horne; O Kebble, F Brown, M Walker, S Manjezi, A Samuel, G Brown, S Vailanu, J Dempsey.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen