Sport Rugby

Thursday 19 January 2017

Cullen turns to old guard to counter Scarlets

Published 06/11/2015 | 02:30

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is afforded the luxury of being able to recall eight internationals
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is afforded the luxury of being able to recall eight internationals

It is a mark of Leinster's impressive strength in depth that Leo Cullen can name a completely new starting XV from last week's winning side for the visit of the league leaders Scarlets this evening (7.35).

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Cullen is afforded the luxury of being able to recall eight internationals that didn't feature in Italy last week, while relegating Johnny Sexton to the bench.

Last weekend's bonus-point victory over Treviso lifted Leinster into the play-off spots for the first time since December and they will be determined to remain there for the rest of the season.

Leinster are unbeaten at home this term but that record will come under serious threat as the undefeated Scarlets arrive in Dublin full of confidence and Cullen admitted that he has been impressed by what he has seen from the Welsh outfit.

"I think one of the things is that they've real solidity in their set-piece, that's been a big feature of their early-season form. They're very effective at the scrum in what they're delivering," Cullen said.

"Jake Ball in the second-row is a big, physical player. One of the areas where they've had great strength this year has been the back-row. James Davies has been man of the match in most games he's played. He's been very good for them so far and we need to be aware of what his threats are.

"John Barclay is there as well, a player who's really experienced; Aaron Shingler too, who is a really good athlete, so that back-row combination has been fairly effective for them.

"They have a good midfield partnership with Owen and Regan King. They've got some quality back from Wales as well. They cause a lot of problems with their line speed," he added.

Cullen has handed first starts to Ireland U-20 star Cian Kelleher who is named on the left wing, while James Tracy comes in at hooker and will pack down alongside the vastly experienced Cian Healy and Mike Ross.

Leinster supporters will get a chance to see Garry Ringrose start in the centre for the first time as he is paired with Noel Reid in a new-look midfield partnership.

Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Ian Madigan, Devin Toner, Sean O'Brien and skipper for the evening Jamie Heaslip are all amongst the returning internationals.

Scarlets coach Wayne Pivac has opted to rest Canada's World Cup star DTH van der Merwe while prop Samson Lee is also given the evening off but despite their absences, Pivac believes that his side have enough quality to notch up their seventh win on the bounce.

"It's very early days but success breeds success and the confidence is growing with each victory," Pivac maintained.

"We're building a good camaraderie within the group. Don't underestimate a team that is working well together and enjoying each other's company and how that transforms into a good team performance. We'll be going out there trying to give it our best shot."

Gareth Owen, Michael Tagicakibau and Aaron Shingler make a return from injury with Gareth Davies makes his first start since starring for Wales at the World Cup.

Scarlets have impressed this season and have won their last two games against Leinster but their unbeaten run may well come to an end at the RDS tonight.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster - R Kearney; Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, N Reid, C Kelleher; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, J Tracy, M Ross; D Toner, T Denton; D Ryan, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt). Reps: B Byrne, J McGrath, M Moore, H Triggs, D Leavy, L McGrath, J Sexton, B Te'o.

Scarlets - A Thomas; T Williams, G Owen, H Parkes, M Tagicakibau; D Jones, G Davies; R Evans, E Phillips, P Edwards; J Ball, L Rawlins; A Shingler, J Davies, J Barclay (capt). Reps: K Owens, D Evans, W Taylor, T Price, M Paulino, A Davies, M Collins, H Robinson.

REF - L Hodges (WRU)

Leinster v Scarlets,

Live, TG4, 7.35

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