Monday 27 March 2017

Cullen confident young guns can push Irish claim

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Seven days ago James Tracy was getting his bags packed to go to Leinster training when he got a call ordering him to get his bags packed to go to play for Ireland.

Eight hours later, instead of strolling on Sandymount beach preparing for a weekend of non-televised Pro12 fare, he returned from a shimmy down Via Del Corso to frantically re-learning lineout calls ahead of the biggest occasion of his sporting career to date.

A sharp reminder that, when opportunity knocks, one must take the door off the hinges. Tracy came off the bench in the Rome rout and performed admirably.

He returns to Leinster colours this evening but he, and a host of similarly eager team-mates, will be chomping at the bit in the knowledge that 15 minutes, or more, of Championship fame may await them.

It may arrive when they least expect it. But they must at least be prepared to expect it.

Injuries may intervene - Ireland's last experience of playing France in tournament fare suggests that it is almost as inevitable as a badly constructed minority government wobbling - so anyone could enter the fray.

From half-backs Joey Carbery, already a star following his Chicago cameo, to November breakthrough partner Luke McGrath, who will be expected to lead his side to a handsome win against Edinburgh this evening.

And, though Ireland's three-quarters options are many and varied, the claims of Rory O'Loughlin and Adam Byrne, too, remain as pressing in their admirers' eyes as they did when they were originally omitted from Joe Schmidt's Championship squad.

Behemoths

And Josh van der Flier, a notable impact replacement amidst the plethora of back-row behemoths who charged through the beleaguered Italians, will also surely be required as back-up for the last three gruelling rounds for his title-chasing countrymen.

"We will see," said Cullen, referring firstly to Carbery and attempting to conceal his own obvious preference that the out-half remain with his side for the duration, perhaps, rather than being whisked away.

"Joey came on at 15 at the weekend against Treviso, moved at one stage to 12. This is his first game at ten in quite a while, since Northampton away in December, where he lasted 15 minutes.

"We'll see how he goes in the first half and we'll make constant assessments after that. Obviously I can't decide what is going to happen in terms of whether he goes into international camp or not. That's for somebody else.

"Luke has been in camp already so he probably has a slightly better chance, I'd say. But guys like Adam and Rory can't be a million miles away can they? I'm seeing what you guys are seeing for the most part. Obviously I get to see our lads in training as well but they're working hard, it's good.

"We haven't had a huge amount of prep time this week but in the couple of weeks prior to that it's been very competitive.

"The likes of Luke, Jack Conan, James Tracy, Dan Leavy, those four guys have been in and out of both environments. So those guys know that if they play well they will be in or around it. So the moral of the story is 'play well tomorrow night fellas'."

Cullen admits that Van der Flieer's key requirement at the moment is vital minutes on the field.

"The difficulty for guys in this period, you finish Europe, so Josh played against Castres and then there's no game for a week, there's an Irish camp that he's involved in.

"He's played maybe a half-hour in the last three weeks so just to get back playing.

"He's as good as any carrier that Ireland had in the autumn internationals where he's making clean line-breaks during games and he really stood out.

"It's just a really competitive position for Ireland, they've three pretty good guys starting.

"Now for Josh, it's a chance for him to play and say, 'This is what I am able to do' and make life pretty uncomfortable for whoever is making that call in terms of the selection for the next Ireland back-row."

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster - Z Kirchner; D Kearney, R O'Loughlin, N Reid, B Daly; J Carbery, L McGrath (capt); P Dooley, J Tracy, M Ross, R Molony, M McCarthy, D Ryan, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: B Byrne, A Porter, M Bent, M Kearney, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, A Byrne.

Edinburgh - G Bryce; D Hoyland, C Dean, P Burleigh, T Brown; D Weir, S Hidalgo-Clyne; J Cosgrove, N Cochrane (capt), M McCallum, F McKenzie, B Toolis, M Bradbury, J Ritchie, C Du Preez.

Reps: G Turner, D Appiah, N Beavon, G Gilchrist, L Carmichael, N Fowles, J Tovey, B Kinghorn.

Ref - I Davies (WRU)

Leinster v Edinburgh, Live, TG4, 7.35pm

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