Johnny Sexton could be in line to return for Leinster in this Friday's BKT United Rugby Championship derby with Ulster at Kingspan Stadium (live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player).

The captain sat out the province's first two games of the URC campaign, as they picked up bonus-point wins against Zebre Parma and Benetton.

They face a much stiffer challenge this Friday however, as they travel to Belfast for their first Interpro of the season, taking on an Ulster side who also have maximum points through their opening two games.

Head coach Leo Cullen was coy when asked about Sexton's potential return last Friday saying they "expect to have one or two" more of their frontline players back.

James Lowe and Hugo Keenan remain sidelined with injury, while the hamstring issue which saw James Ryan withdraw from the side to face Benetton isn't expected to be long-term.

Along with Sexton, Tadhg Furlong sat out the opening two games, with Cullen adding that they will make a call on his availability later in the week, while Jamison Gibson-Park will make his first appearance of the season, having been sidelined with an illness last week.

Leinster come into the derby hurting, having lost home and away to Dan McFarland's side last season. And Cullen says they haven't forgotten those defeats.

Ulster won when the sides last met in March

"Any time we lose it tends to sting, that's because it means a lot to lads, when you're involved in the team and are wearing the jersey, it means a lot," he said.

"So yeah, when you lose, particularly the derby games... it's slightly unusual, the timings of some of those games last year, but we lost them both so I wouldn't make any excuses really.

"Both teams were affected [by Covid-19] at different stages of the season, that's why I say it's unusual, straight into such a big game, but it's great to focus the minds as well and it's important for our guys in many cases to recover after the first game of the season.

"I think there's a great rivalry there always, there has always been. The derby games, that's what you want, you want the players battling it out against each other.

"It's an unusual start to the season when you think some guys haven't got up and running at all yet in our squad and in round three we're into a big derby game away from home, so it's a great challenge."

The province looked far sharper in Friday night's 42-10 win against Benetton at the RDS, having fallen over the line in their opener against Zebre.

However, Cullen says the Italians did expose some areas of weakness for Leinster to hone in on this week.

"Benetton do present a good physical test for you, at times there we got turned over at the ruck. Ulster will be strong in that area, they're strong in the contact area and they talk about it a lot themselves, they clearly place a lot of emphasis on it.

"How we are in that facet of the game will clearly have a large bearing on the outcome. It's a good early contest for us, both teams will be missing a couple of players who are travelling away so how that affects it, we'll wait and see.

"Watching them against Connacht, that's probably where they dominated Connacht, in those physical exchanges, defensively they caused a lot of problems for Connacht, who played themselves into trouble at times.

"So it's making sure we get that balance in our game, that's going to be important."