Ross Byrne can be seen in action during Leinster’s last trip to France when they beat Montpellier 35-14 last December. © INPHO / Dave Winter
Provincial 100th performance Ross Byrne and reserve captain Luke McGrath will lead Leinster into battle in Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle.
The pair will play a key role in kick-off at 4pm local time / 3pm Irish time at Stade Marcel Deflandre. With Jonathan Sexton out due to injury, it is Byrne’s third start in the third European games of the season.
There are three changes as Byrne in the team that won 34-22 three weeks ago to dethrone the Exeter Chiefs and getting fit duo Garry Ringrose and James Ryan all got the nods.
Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour and James Lowe, who scored three goals in Devon, stay in the last three, while Ringrose returns to Robbie Henshaw in midfield .
Byrne and McGrath control the ship from the center-back, with the former having an impressive European campaign as the tournament’s fifth top scorer (37 points).
Ryan countered his fitness at the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup Opener last week Muenster demonstrated with a robust display. He teams up with Devin Toner in the second row.
Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong pack up together in the front row after Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan miss last week’s game had to come back as the first strikers.
With his outstanding performance in the quarterfinals by van der Flier, which included 22 tackles and two turnovers, he was included in the longlist for the EPCR European Player of the Year award. < On the bench, both Rowan Osborne (hand) and Ciaran Frawley (thigh) have recovered from injury to take their place on Matchday 23 while Andrew Porter queues for his 75th Leinster international Before the game, head coach Leo Cullen said: “La Rochelle is a well-trained team of two coaches (Ronan O'Gara and Jono Gibbes) who we have great respect for. You can see the progress their team has made over the last two seasons.
« They have a good mix of tall, strong strikers, a dynamic back row, the Kiwi combo with 9 and 10 with (Tawera) Kerr-Barlow and (Ihaia) West and some dangerous players in Raymond Rhule and (Brice). Dulin. «
He added, » In terms of Ross, it’s a massive step up. You’re starting a semi-final in Europe, but he’s already played big games for us.
« You think back to the quarter-final against Ulster in the Aviva (2019) when he steered us well across the field and he did also done in Guinness PRO14. He’s led the group well this week.
« Ross has probably played more minutes for us than Johnny in the last few years because Johnny had more international minutes. In many ways the players are more with Ross in sync because he played more games.
« Ross was a bit more on the periphery with Ireland and he’s more rooted in what we do in Leinster. There are all subtle differences, neither right nor wrong. Ross has a very, very clear picture of what we’re trying to do here. «
LEINSTER (v La Rochelle): Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, and James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (Capt); Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan.
Substitutions: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy, Ryan Baird, Rowan Osborne, Ciaran Frawley and Rory O’Loughlin.
La Rochelle versus Leinster Rugby
Marcel Deflandre Stadium
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