Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said it was a “huge” boost to have Ireland front row duo Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher back at his side for tomorrow’s round of 16 second leg match against Connacht at the Aviva Stadium.
Ullen’s men will go into the game with a five-point lead and the return of Porter and Kelleher on the spot will greatly improve Leinster’s chances of making it into the last eight of Europe.
Porter and Kelleher have been sidelined since respective shots were picked up during the Six Nations and Cullen believes both players can make a big difference against Connacht.
Jordan Larmour was also available after a hip problem, but Cullen opted to remain on the bench with Ciaran Frawley.
“It’s huge, all the guys practiced late last week to bring Andrew and Ronan back in, that front row worked pretty well together and it’s a great combination,” Cullen said.
“Andrew, when he switched from tighthead to loosehead earlier in the season, he was a remarkable character and was doing incredibly well until his ankle injury.
“Ronan has been training for a little longer because he was able to do better, and the two of them in particular bring a lot of power.
“Jordan was a bit unlucky, he could come back to the team next week, but it’s great to have this strength, it’s badly needed.”
In Leinster’s third substitution, Jamison Gibson-Park wins ahead of Luke McGrath, who started last week’s first-leg win at the Sportfeld.
“Regarding Johnny (Sexton) and Jamison, they played together a lot during the Six Nations,” Cullen explained.
“We’ll see how the guys go because for us it’s also very important that we have so many full-backs off the bench and you can see how we’ve mixed and matched those guys over the course of a couple of seasons.
“We are blessed with the quality of these guys.”
With over 30,000 tickets sold for tomorrow’s clash so far, Cullen will be hoping his side put on a strong performance to seal their place in the Quarters.
“The obvious thing is the start – start the game well. Connacht had us under pressure when they scored the try early in the game,” he said.
“There were some parts of the game when we were strong, especially in the scrum, it’s just chasing those areas to establish dominance.
“It’s going to be a great competition again, both teams want to have a strong attacking intention and one of Connacht’s strengths is their phasing attack and playing low on the line, we just need to be a little more solid defensively.
“It would be nice if we got a good start to give us some control.
“We have to make sure our players have that emotional control, it’s hugely important, the occasion is very important, but we have to get on the pitch and make sure we’re in the right headspace and make sure we’re not overexcited, I think that’s the right term.
“It’s a new game for us, a one-off game, it’s just a KO game for us and yes, it really is all at stake.
“It’s 0-0, we’ve got five points to play, but it’s such a small lead.
“The lads have been here many times so there’s that familiarity too but when you play for your provincial team and you’re here representing all the people who helped get those lads phased out at the Aviva it’s a huge deal for us.
“So for us, it’s about giving these guys a great performance,” Cullen added.
“It’s a great opportunity but the provincial grounds are a bit different, the Aviva is our national stadium but it’s great that more people can go and there are still a few tickets left, it’s a great showcase and hopefully we can have one tomorrow put on a big show.
“It’s up to us to also throw the kitchen sink at them and be able to take them out defensively.
“There were a couple of occasions where we tried to be exposed and we’ve been working hard on that this week, but I’m sure Connacht has been working hard on things as well.”
Leinster – H Keenan; O’Brien J, Ringrose G, Henshaw R, Lowe J; J Sexton (Captain), J Gibson Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; R Molony, J Murphy; Doris C, van der Flier J, Conan J. Representatives: D. Sheehan, E. BYRNE, M. Ala’alatoa, D. Toner, R. Ruddock, L. McGrath, R. Byrne, C. Frawley.
Connacht – T O’Halloran; J Porch, T Farrell, B Aki, M Hansen; J Carty, C Blade; M Burke, D Heffernan, F Bealham; G. Thornbury, L. Fifita; C Prendergast, C Oliver, J Butler. Representatives: J. Murphy, D. Buckley, J. Aungier, O. Dowling, A. Papali’i, K. Marmion, S. Arnold, C. Fitzgerald,
REF: L Pearce (England)
Leinster v Connacht, Aviva Stadium, 5.30am, Live on BT Sport
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/champions-league/the-two-of-them-bring-a-lot-of-power-in-particular-cullen-hails-return-of-porter-and-kelleher-41554008.html “These two bring a lot of power” – Cullen welcomes the return of Porter and Kelleher