Sexton to lead Leinster into first game of PRO14 title defence

Sexton to lead Leinster into first game of PRO14 title defence

Johnny Sexton will lead a much-changed Leinster line-up into the first game of the Guinness PRO14 title defence as the champions return to the RDS for the first time since February 28 on Friday (8:15pm) to face the Dragons.

Head coach Leo Cullen has made eight changes and two positional switches from the side beaten at Aviva Stadium by Saracens a fortnight ago in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final as Leinster kick off the 2020-21 campaign without supporters. 

Jordan Larmour moves from full-back to right wing with Hugo Keenan going in the opposite direction while Ciaran Frawley is named at inside centre instead of Robbie Henshaw. 

Captain Sexton has a different half-back partner with Jamison Gibson-Park named at scrum-half rather than Luke McGrath to round out the backline reshuffle.

With tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong still absent due to a back injury, Leinster have swapped their front rows from the Saracens defeat with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Andrew Porter dropping to the bench while Ed Byrne, Ronan Kelleher and Michael Bent are promoted to start. 

Devin Toner drops out of the matchday squad as Scott Fardy comes into the second row to partner James Ryan and Ryan Baird offering bench cover while in the back row, Jack Conan is retained at No.8 with incoming experienced flankers Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier replacing Caelan Doris and Will Connors.

Leinster will be looking to continue their PRO14 winning streak having gone 2019-20 unbeaten to clinch a third title in a row and are playing a Dragons side very different from the team hammered 50-15 at the RDS last November 1.

Director of Rugby Dean Ryan will give starts to new Welsh Test backline signings Jonah Holmes, Jamie Roberts and Saracens loanee Nick Tompkins while former Connacht forward Joe Maksymiw starts in the second row as the Welsh region attempts to rebound from its European Challenge Cup last-eight loss to Bristol Bears two weeks ago.

LEINSTER: H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, C Frawley, J Lowe; J Sexton - captain, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, R Kelleher, M Bent; S Fardy, J Ryan; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Conan.

Replacements: S Cronin, C Healy, A Porter, R Baird, M Deegan, L McGrath, R Byrne, T O’Brien.

DRAGONS: W Talbot-Davies; J Holmes, N Tompkins, J Roberts, A Hewitt; S Davies, R Williams - captain; B Harris, E Dee, A Jarvis; J Davies, J Maksymiw; A Wainwright, H Keddie, R Moriarty

Replacements: R Hibbard, C Maguire, L Fairbrother, M Screech, T Basham, T Knoyle, J Lewis, A Warren

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)

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