Thursday 24 August 2017

Ross continues to wallow in tight spot on the bench

Hugh Farrelly

ANDREW CONWAY'S selection on the wing for Leinster's meeting with Cardiff Blues tomorrow (4.0) will undoubtedly generate excitement but of more significance, in terms of players breaking into the Ireland squad, is the fact that Mike Ross is once again on the bench.

CJ van der Linde and Stan Wright form a non-Irish qualified propping combination with Cian Healy away on international duty and it is worth remembering that Healy only broke through onto the international scene when Van der Linde was injured last season.

Ross was one of the top-rated scrummagers in the Premiership with Harlequins but switched to Leinster to further his Ireland ambitions. Those have been thwarted by the return to fitness of South African Van der Linde and by Wright being seen as first-choice replacement for Van der Linde at tight-head and Healy at loose-head.

Ireland's top three tight-heads are Munster's John Hayes and Tony Buckley and Ulster's Tom Court (who is forced to play loose-head due to the presence of another South African, BJ Botha) and Ross needs to start regularly on the tight-head side for Leinster to further his chances of making Ireland's summer tour. But that doesn't look likely unless both Van der Linde and Healy are unavailable.

Shane Jennings leads Leinster out at the Cardiff City Stadium and forms a strong back-row alongside Kevin McLaughlin and Stephen Keogh.

Eoin Reddan forms a half-back combination with Shaun Berne while Eoin O'Malley and Fergus McFadden fill the centre slots as Girvan Dempsey and Isa Nacewa complete the back three next to Conway. Conway, the ex-Blackrock College and current star of the Ireland U-20s, sparked a mouth-foaming reaction a fortnight ago when he came off the bench for his Magners League debut in the win against the Scarlets.

He is a talented footballer and a strong runner but Cardiff will fancy their chances against a Leinster backline lacking its marquee names of Rob Kearney. Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Jonathan Sexton.

The visitors bring a good pack to Cardiff but the Blues have pace and power out wide with Ben Blair, Casey Laulala and Tom Shanklin the stand-out names. They also have Andy Powell on the bench following his buggy-robbing antics after Wales' win over Scotland.

Leinster are in third place in the table with two games in hand on eighth-placed Cardiff and, with the Blues losing their last five meetings with Michael Cheika's men, it all points to an away victory.

But the Blues hammered Glasgow last time out and, though they are missing their own internationals, will see Leinster as vulnerable without their big names in the backline with the visitors having to make do with a losing bonus point.

"Sunday will present an opportunity to stake a claim," said Berne. "As well as the pride in representing Leinster, the Ireland players who have been released this week will no doubt look to Jonathan Sexton's example last month when a good showing helped him earn a spot in the win over England."

For Ross, the path from Leinster bench to Ireland squad looks a lot harder to negotiate.

Verdict: Cardiff

CARDIFF BLUES -- B Blair; T James, C Laulala, T Shanklin, C Czekaj; C Sweeney, G Cooper; T Filise, TR Thomas, G Powell; S Morgan, P Tito (capt); M Molitika, S Warburton, X Rush. Reps: H Dowden, S Andrews, A Pretorius, A Powell, L Williams, S Norton-Knight, D Hewitt.

LEINSTER -- G Dempsey; A Conway, E O'Malley, F McFadden, I Nacewa; S Berne, E Reddan; S Wright, B Jackman, CJ van der Linde; D Toner, M O'Kelly; K McLaughlin, S Jennings (capt), S Keogh. Reps: R Strauss, M Ross, T Hogan, R Ruddock, P O'Donohoe, I Madigan, S Keogh.

REF -- A Macpherson (Scotland).

Cardiff Blues v Leinster

Live, Tomorrow, Setanta Ireland, 4.0

Irish Independent

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