On Saturday Connacht and Leinster meet for the first of three duels in four weeks, and in two weeks the historic knockout games of the Heineken Champions Cup begin.
Former head coach Leo Cullen has named his side for Saturday night’s United Rugby Championship clash at the sports ground.
The side will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing inter-provincial defeat by Ulster on their final day.
There is a welcome return to the lineup for center Ciarán Frawley, who has recovered from a facial injury. He is supported in midfield by Jamie Osborne.
The back row will consist of Jimmy O’Brien, with Tommy O’Brien on his right and Rory O’Loughlin on his left.
Luke McGrath captains the side and partners Ross Byrne at full-backs.
Up front are new centurion Peter Dooley, James Tracy and Michael Ala’alatoa in the front row, with Ross Molony and Joe McCarthy behind them.
Completing the starting XV is a back row of Rhys Ruddock, Scott Penny and Max Deegan.
Among the substitutes is a potential debut for Academy backer Chris Cosgrave.
Cosgrave is a versatile player who can play anywhere in the back three, but has also been lined up in the outside half and center during his school days at St. Michael’s College.
He now plays his club rugby with UCD and also played for Old Belvedere in his earlier years.
Andy Friend and his coaching staff have made seven changes to the squad that faced Edinburgh three weeks ago. Denis Buckley, Niall Murray, Jarrad Butler, Kieran Marmion, Oran McNulty, Tom Farrell and Tiernan O’Halloran are all in the starting XI.
The back is completed by captain Jack Carty, center Tom Day and winger John Porch, while the tight five consists of hooker Dave Heffernan, tight head Jack Aungier and lock Oisín Dowling. There are no changes on either flank, meaning Cian Prendergast and Conor Oliver are retained.
Commenting on the team’s announcement, head coach Andy Friend said: “It’s been three weeks since our last game so we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on Edinburgh’s performance and understand what happened and we’ve had two good weeks of training under our belt since then waistline.
There was no talk of the Champions Cup games because tomorrow is a huge game in its own right. We’ve got our backs against the wall if we’re going to make the playoffs and I’m sure all 23 men with a huge crowd behind us will put on a performance that they are capable of.”
The Ulster matchday squad has been named to take on DHL Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.
Alan O’Connor will make his 150th appearance for the Ulster men and he will skip the side from the second row. O’Connor’s partner is Kieran Treadwell, who is returning from international assignments. Eric O’Sullivan and Marty Moore will take the starting positions while Rob Herring returns from Irish camp at Hooker. Greg Jones got the nod as a blindside flanker, while Marcus Rea takes the turn at the openside and Duane Vermeulen completes the field in eighth.
Returning from his international duties, Mike Lowry starts at full-back with Craig Gilroy and Rob Lyttle assisting on the right and left wings. Stuart McCloskey and Stewart Moore will form midfield, with John Cooney coming in to start alongside in the scrum half Billy Burns at Out-Half.
Luke Marshall could make his first appearance of the season after being named as a backup after returning from injury. He is joined in the back by David Shanahan and Ethan McIlroy. The front reinforcements are Tom Stewart, Callum Reid, Gareth Milasinovich, Mick Kearney and Jordi Murphy.
Connacht (s. Leinster): Tiernan O’Halloran; John Porch, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Oran McNulty; Jack Carty (Captain), Kieran Marmion; Denis Buckley, Dave Heffernan, Jack Aungier; Oisin Dowling, Niall Murray; Cian Prendergast, Conor Oliver, Jarrad Butler. Replacement: Jonny Murphy, Matthew Burke, Greg McGrath, Ultan Dillane, Paul Boyle, Caolin Blade, Sammy Arnold, Diarmuid Kilgallen.
Lester: Jimmy O’Brien; Tommy O’Brien, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O’Loughlin; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (Captain); Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Michael Ala’alatoa; Ross Molony, Joe McCarthy; Rhys Ruddock, Scott Penny, Max Deegan. Replacement: Seán Cronin, Ed Byrne, Thomas Clarkson, Josh Murphy, Martin Moloney, Nick McCarthy, David Hawkshaw, Chris Cosgrave.
Ulster (vs DHL Stormers): Mike Lowry; Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle; Billy Burns, John Cooney; Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore; Alan O’Connor (Captain), Kieran Treadwell; Greg Jones, Marcus Rea, Duane Vermeulen. Replacement: Tom Stewart, Callum Reid, Gareth Milasinovich, Mick Kearney, Jordi Murphy, David Shanahan, Luke Marshall, Ethan McIlroy.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/pro14/urc-teams-leo-cullen-names-his-leinster-side-to-take-on-connacht-in-appetiser-before-champions-cup-clashes-41487100.html URC teams: Leo Cullen names his Leinster side to face Connacht as a starter ahead of Champions Cup clashes