Leinster restore big guns for meeting with La Rochelle

Robbie Henshaw and Devin Toner among those who came back in for semi-final

Champions Cup semi-final: La Rochelle v Leinster

Kick-off: 3pm. Venue: Stade Marcel Deflandre. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 2.30pm. On TV: Live on BT Sport.

As expected, for Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle, Leo Cullen has restored the 11 front-liners who were rested for last week’s Rainbow Cup defeat by Munster while retaining Garry Ringrose and James Ryan after they came through their respective comebacks in that match.

Ringrose is re-united with Robbie Henshaw, while Ryan will resume his partnership with Devin Toner, whose ball-winning skills have been chosen from the start to combat La Rochelle’s strong defensive line-out.


Hugo Keenan returns after a rare day’s rest with Jordan Larmour reverting to the wing while James Lowe is retained on the left wing. Luke McGrath is restored to partner Ross Byrne in the absence of Johnny Sexton. Byrne will be making his 100th appearance for Leinster and McGrath will captain the side.

Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong are back in harness in the frontrow, as is the backrow of Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan.

The starting XV shows just three changes from the side which played Exeter in the quarter-finals three weeks ago, namely Ringrose, Byrne and Ryan.

The competition for places on the matchday 23 having heated up, Leinster have opted for a similar bench, with Scott Fardy’s demotion to the replacements coming at the expense of Ross Molony. With Jamison Gibson-Park and Harry Byrne both ruled out due to hamstring issues, but Rowan Osborne (hand) and Ciarán Frawley (hamstring) have recovered from injury Ciarán Frawley to provide cover at half-back.

Meanwhile, La Rochelle’s New Zealand outhalf Ihaia West has overcome the shoulder injury he sustained in the win over Lyon two weeks ago to be named in their starting XV. West, who signed a new two-year deal with the club this week, will resume his partnership with former All Blacks scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Jono Gibbes has also restored their brilliant Fijian Levani Botia, lock Romain Sazy and Grégory Alldritt, who were all rested against Lyon, as well as loosehead Reda Wardi, Will Skelton, Kevin Gourdon and winger Raymond Rhule, all of whom were on the bench a fortnight ago.

There is only one change in the starting XV compared to the team that beat Sale 45-21 in the quarter-finals three weeks ago, with Gibbes preferring the big tacking and aggression of former South African Under-20 World Cup-winning captain Wiaan Liebenberg over the dynamic running game of Kevin Gourdon, who will be sprung from the bench instead.

La Rochelle have also been boosted by the return of Jules Plisson, who had been sidelined for the last month with a hamstring injury, as back-up to West.

La Rochelle: Brice Dulin; Dillyn Leyds, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Levani Botia, Raymond Rhule; Ihaia West, Tawera Kerr Barlow; Reda Wardi, Pierre Bourgarit, Uini Atonio, Romain Sazy (capt), Will Skelton, Grégory Alldritt, Wiaan Liebenberg, Victor Vito.

Replacements: Facundo Bosch, Dany Priso, Arthur Joly, Thomas Lavault, Kevin Gourdon, Arthur Retiere, Jules Plisson, Pierre Aguillon.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath (capt); Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Devin Toner, James Ryan; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Scott Fardy, Ryan Baird, Rowan Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O'Loughlin.