JOHNNY SEXTON will lead Leinster’s attack at the Galway Sports Ground tomorrow night when Connacht recalls Bundee Aki for their first knockout game at the Heineken Champions Cup.
The Ireland captain missed last week’s sweeping win over Munster but returns as one of seven changes to Leo Cullen’s side for the first leg.
Luke McGrath also comes into the starting XI, while the tight five that came off the bench at Thomond Park start tomorrow.
That means Connacht will line up in Ireland’s final Six Nations game against Scotland on the front row and back row, with Cian Healy up front to Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony in the engine room to Connacht-bound utility striker Josh Murphy and Caelan pushes Doris, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan complete the pack.
Robbie Henshaw returns to his former place alongside Garry Ringrose, while Hugo Keenan, Jimmy O’Brien and James Lowe form the back three.
Connacht, meanwhile, has Aki at his disposal for the first time since the Six Nations and he will be crucial if the home side is to keep the tie alive ahead of next week’s second leg.
Andy Friend has named a strong side but he needs a big performance from a pack that includes Ireland internationals Dave Heffernan and Finlay Bealham along with Matt Burke on the front row, while Gavin Thornbury partners Leva Fifita on the second row .
Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver join Jarrad Butler in the back row while Kieran Marmion and Jack Carty will look to prove a point in central defence.
Aki partners with Tom Farrell in midfield, while Tiernan O’Halloran, John Porch and Mack Hansen are in the back three.
After fielding six forwards off the bench last week, Cullen returns to a traditional 5/3 split this week and has plenty of firepower, although he resists the urge to bring Andrew Porter and Ronan Kelleher back into service.
Seven of Leinster’s substitutes are internationals, with Devn Toner bringing vast experience and Jamison Gibson-Park able to transform a game when introduced.
Connacht, meanwhile, has Sammy Arnold and Abraham Papali’I, tied to Brive, in reserve.
CONNIGHT – T O’Halloran; J Porch, T Farrell, B Aki, M Hansen; J Carty, K Marmion; M Burke, D Heffernan, F Bealham; G. Thornbury, L. Fifita; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Representatives: D. Tierney-Martin, T. Tuimauga, J. Aungier, O. Dowling, A. Papali’i, C. Blade, C. Fitzgerald, S. Arnold.
LEISTER – H Keenan; O’Brien J, Ringrose G, Henshaw R, Lowe J; J Sexton (Captain), L McGrath; Healy C, Sheehan D, Furlong T; R Molony, J Murphy; Doris C, van der Flier J, Conan J. Representatives: J. Tracy, E. Byrne, M. Ala’alatoa, D. Toner, M. Deegan, J. Gibson-Park, R. Byrne, C. Frawley.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/champions-cup/sexton-back-to-lead-leinsters-galway-raid-as-aki-returns-for-connacht-in-champions-cup-showdown-41529938.html Sexton returns to lead Leinster’s raid on Galway while Aki returns for Connacht in the Champions Cup showdown