Leinster missing Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong for daunting French opener

Leinster will have to start their latest Heineken Champions Cup campaign away to Racing 92, one of France’s leading lights without the services of Johnny Sexton or Tadhg Furlong.

The Ireland pair were injury concerns approaching this week with Sexton nursing a calf issue picked up prior to the Test against Australia last month and Furlong hampered by a hamstring problem suffered last week against Ulster.

The absence of one of those world-class operators would have been a blow for a side looking to put the memories of last year’s last-gasp final loss to La Rochelle to bed. Missing the two of them is an incalculable blow.

All told, Leo Cullen has named nine of the XV that started that decider loss to Ronan O’Gara’s side in Marseille last May with Ross Byrne again deputising for Sexton and Michael Ala’alatoa the next man up for Furlong.

Both men are excellent players and equally impressive professionals but neither possesses the extra touch of class that their missing colleagues can bring to proceedings and that is significant against a side as dangerous as Racing 92.

Garry Ringrose will captain the side at Stade Océane, which hosts the game due to the unavailability of Racing’s La Defense Arena which is instead the location for a music concert this weekend.

The Leinster side is still a formidable proposition with 15 internationals. A dozen of them are Irish with Charlie Ngatai capped by the All Blacks, Ala’alatoa by Samoa and Jason Jenkins having appeared for the Springboks.

The bench is almost as impressive with five more Ireland internationals as well as Ross Molony, Harry Byrne and the versatile and in-form Jamie Osborne providing back-up for Saturday’s game in France.

Meanwhile, Ulster have named their side to take on Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday afternoon. 

Dan McFarland has picked Billy Burns and Nathan Doak as his half backs, with Stuart McCloskey and James Hume manning the midfield. 

Ethan McIlroy and Jacob Stockdale are named on the wings, while Mike Lowry slots into the 15 channel.

In the forwards, Marty Moore is in line to make his 50th European appearance off the bench, where he provides cover for Tom O’Toole.

O’Toole will scrum down alongside Andy Warwick and Rob Herring in the front row and Alan O’Connor and Kieran Treadwell are named in the second row.

World Cup-winning Springbok, Duane Vermeulen, is named at Number 8, with Matty Rea at blindside flanker and another of Ulster’s Ireland internationals, Nick Timoney, completing the back row.

Leinster (v Racing 92): H Keenan, J O’Brien, G Ringrose, C Ngatai, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, D Sheehan, M Ala’alatoa; J Ryan, J Jenkins; R Baird, J van der Flier, C Doris.

Replacements: R Kelleher, E Byrne, C Healy, R Molony, J Conan, L McGrath, H Byrne, J Osborne.

Ulster (v Sale Sharks): M Lowry; E McIlroy, J Hume, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; B Burns, N Doak; A Warwick, R Herring, T O’Toole; A O’Connor (Captain), K Treadwell; M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen.

Replacements: T Stewart, E O’Sullivan, M Moore, S Carter, M Rea, D Shanahan, S Moore, B Moxham.

Connacht (v Newcastle Falcons – Challenge Cup): T O’Halloran; A Byrne, T Daly, C Forde, D Kilgallen; D Hawkshaw, C Blade; P Dooley, D Tierney-Martin, J Aungier; J Murphy, N Murray; J Butler, S Hurley-Langton, P Boyle.


S Delahunt, D Buckley, S Illo, L Fifita, O McCormack, C Reilly, C Fitzgerald, T Farrell.

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