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Returning Johnny Sexton held in reserve as James Ryan to captain Leinster against Montpellier

LEO CULLEN has opted to keep Johnny Sexton on the bench for his first game since Ireland’s win over New Zealand on November 14.

ames Ryan will lead the four-time Heineken Champions Cup winners against an understrength Montpellier on Sunday, with the French side handing Drogheda prospect Karl Martin his debut at the RDS.

Robbie Henshaw and Ryan Baird are the most notable absentees from Leinster’s side for the clash, with Ciaran Frawley partnering Garry Ringrose in midfield.

Jimmy O’Brien is preferred to James Lowe on the left wing, with Hugo Keenan and Jordan Larmour making up the back three, while Ross Byrne starts ahead of Sexton and there’s no place in the matchday 23 for his brother Harry. Jamison Gibson-Park gets the nod ahead of Luke McGrath.

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Up front, Leinster have two powerful front-rows in their matchday 23. Andrew Porter, Rónan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong start, with Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan and Michael Alala’alatoa ready to come off the bench.

Ryan is partnered by Ross Molony, with Rhys Ruddock covering the second-row off the bench.

Ireland’s first-choice back-row combine once again as Jack Conan returns for the first time since the All Blacks win, lining up alongside Caelan Doris and Josh van der Flier with Max Deegan providing cover.

Montpellier have had plenty of Covid-19 issues in recent weeks and travel without a host of internationals including Springbok out-half Handré Pollard and France second-row Paul Willemse.

Centre Martin was slated to make his debut in the return fixture and no doubt this will be a special day for the Boyne RFC and Old Belvedere talent, who represented Leinster and Ireland at underage level, who made the move to France last summer.

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LEINSTER – H Keenan; J Larmour, G Ringrose, C Frawley, J O’Brien; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Furlong; R Molony, J Ryan (capt); C Doris, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: D Sheehan, C Healy, M Ala’alatoa, R Ruddock, M Deegan, L McGrath, J Sexton, J Lowe.

MONTPELLIER – A Bevia; P Lucas, T Darmon, K Martin, J Capelli, J Vici; L Foursans, G Aprassidze; M Nariashvili, G Guirado (capt), H Thomas; T Duguid, M Capelli; M Dakuwaqa, F Verhaeghe, M Tauleigne. Reps: V Giusicelli, R Rodgers, T Lamositele, A Becognee, A Eymeri, P Vallél, N Janse van Rensburg.

Ref: Wayne Barnes (England)

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