No Johnny Sexton or Rob Kearney for Leinster’s Euro derby with Ulster

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No Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney on the bench and Jack McGrath given the weekend off.

All told, Leinster will start Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster in Dublin without three of their British and Irish Lions on the field of play, though for very different reasons.

Sexton misses out with what head coach Leo Cullen has described as a tight calf muscle and his place at out-half will be taken by Ross Byrne. “It’s prudent to rest him because we have some big games to come,” said Cullen of his first-choice ten.

Sexton’s absence will draw most attention ahead of kick-off but Byrne has proven to be an able deputy across three seasons with the province, including in some major European ties, although this will be his first appearance at the knockout stage.

Kearney misses out not because of injury – he is named on the bench – but because Leinster have opted instead for a man over a decade his junior in Jordan Larmour. It is a big call in a big game.

“You’re trying to weigh up what you see in the Six Nations,” said Cullen.

He played against France here (in the Aviva Stadium) and I thought he did well in that game. The Toulouse game he played in round five (of Europe), I’ve thought he’s gone okay in the games.

Other decisions of note include the choice of Sean O’Brien at seven over the fit again Dan Leavy while the electric wing James Lowe again falls foul of the restrictions on Kiwis and Aussies by making do with a seat in the stand.

But the absence from the squad of Jack McGrath, a stalwart for the Lions in New Zealand just to summers ago but linked with a move to Ulster, is particularly eye-opening. The loosehead had already lost his place in the Ireland queue behind Cian Healy to Munster’s Dave Kilcoyne.

Ed Byrne backs Healy up here.

“We made some calls in round five and six,” said Cullen.

Ed Byrne has been doing well and got the nod there, Cian Healy is in form and it’s just what we think will work. Jack is training hard, he came off the bench last week. It’s a close call.

“It’s difficult because he had the injury at the start of the season, there’s a little bit of form over the season. And the period we had is disjointed, they don’t play much rugby and selection in this period is on a given day.

“Any other day we could do it differently. Ed stayed with Leinster and was able to play a lot of minutes so it was easier for him. But for other players who got pulled and dragged, it’s a little bit harder for them to showcase what they can do.”

Leinster: J Larmour; A Byrne, G Ringrose, R O’Loughlin, D Kearney; R Byrne, L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong; S Fardy, J Ryan; R Ruddock, S O’Brien, J Conan.

Replacements: J Tracy, E Byrne, A Porter, M Kearney, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, N Reid, R Kearney.

Ulster: M Lowry; R Baloucoune, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Best, M Moore; I Henderson, K Treadwell; N Timoney, J Murphy, M Coetzee.

Replacements: R Herring, A Warwick, W Herbst, A O’Connor, S Reidy, D Shanahan, L Marshall, A Kernohan.

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