Ireland back-rower Dan Leavy could be set to return from 19 months on the sidelines on Friday night after being named in Leinster’s matchday squad for the Guinness PRO14 visit of Zebre to the RDS.
Head coach Leo Cullen has handed senior debuts to first-year professional Dan Sheehan at hooker following his recovery from a cheekbone injury and academy centre Liam Turner while there could further bows off the bench for former Munster tighthead Ciaran Parker, signed as sort-term cover from Jersey Reds, and 2019 Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam-winning captain David Hawkshaw, who will cover the outside backs.
Yet it is the inclusion of Leavy that will bring most cheer to Leinster and Ireland supporters. The abrasive back-rower was a key member of Ireland’s 2018 Grand Slam campaign but suffered a serious knee injury in the following season’s Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Ulster in March 2019.
Back from a shorter-term hamstring injury and making his 150th Leinster appearance will be winger Dave Kearney in a match to be played behind closed doors. Kearney is joined in the back three by Jimmy O'Brien at full-back and Tommy O'Brien on the right wing, both of whom impressed off the bench in last weekend’s away win at Benetton Rugby. Turner, 21, and another 2019 U20 Grand Slam winner starts at outside centre and partners Ciarán Frawley in midfield outside a half-back pairing of Luke McGrath and Harry Byrne, who makes his start of the season. Sheehan makes his debut at hooker in an experienced pack, flanked by Peter Dooley at loosehead on his return from a shoulder injury for his first game since February, and Michael Bent. In the second row, Devin Toner is set for his 250th Leinster cap alongside Ross Molony as they go against an ex-Leinster duo of Mick Kearney and Ian Nagle, while the back row comprising Josh Murphy, Scott Penny and captain Rhys Ruddock.