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charge of the heavy brigade

There is a changing of the guard happening at Leinster as Matt O'Connor shows he really does say it as he sees it.

A straight-up question: could the retention of Martin Moore, 23, and Tadhg Furlong, 22, as a tight-head double-act signal a permanent sea-change?

"Yeah, potentially," said O'Connor, at Thursday's media session.

"It's about performance. We've got a lot of really good guys in the environment.

"The responsibility on the bloke who pulls the shirt on is to make sure that he's good, to make sure he retains that shirt the following week."

The Leinster team to play Castres starts with Moore at tight-head and Furlong on the bench with international stalwart Mike Ross unable to make the 23-man squad.

Ross, Ireland's first choice in the November series, is the contingency option should anything unforeseen happen to the other two.

This will set coach Joe Schmidt a problem as he plots a course through the Six Nations with Ross notoriously short on game time and Furlong not even included in the December camp.

Since November, thirty-five year-old Ross has played just three times for Leinster in the back-to-back matches against Harlequins and Ulster in the PRO12.

In reality, Ross has kept trucking along as a specialist scrummager, who has just signed a one-year contract extension.

In the meantime, Furlong has been making giant strides with the benefit of game time and Moore was pin-point accurate in his delivery against Cardiff Blues Gethin Jenkins last week on his return from three months out.

The clamour for Furlong's fast-tracking has been understandable given the unusual skill-set and athletic gifts he takes into combat as a tight-head.

His stalling point has been the fact that he has not had enough top-level scrummaging to determine whether he can hold up under the heaviest pressure.

The rock solid engagement against Munster at Thomond Park, his first 80 of the season, was a step taken and the try-scoring impact against Cardiff another box ticked.

"Whoever gets those opportunities in the front row or the back row or the midfield, they have to take those opportunities," added O'Connor.

"If they do that, they'll, more than likely keep their place in the team.

"If their performance wanes or is perceived not to be up to the standard, then they won't play."

There could be other significant selections in the case of Ian Madigan pulling on the number twelve jersey and Luke Fitzgerald holding on at thirteen.

This means the demotion of Gordon D'Arcy.

As the years have moved on, like Brian O'Driscoll before him, the Wexford man, 35 next month, has become better known for what he brings in defence than attack with the loss of a yard in pace.

As Eoin Reddan, 34, and Isaac Boss, 34, move into the twilight of their careers, it is worth of mention how Luke McGrath shone against Cardiff and splits the two veterans as the reserve nine behind Reddan.

This assignment is made for all-out attack and the quick and merciless accumulation of tries against a French club which, according to O'Connor, have made Top-14 survival their main priority.

It may turn out that way, but Castres coach Serge Milhas has certainly not given that impression through selection.

The front five includes props All Black Saimone Taumoepeau and Argentinean beast Ramiro Herrera and international locks Scotland's Richie Gray and France's Christophe Samson.

Leinster will have to strike quickly to reduce Castres interest in a contest which holds little in the way of reward for them.

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, L Fitzgerald, I Madigan, D Kearney; J Gopperth, E Reddan; M Bent, S Cronin, M Moore, D Toner, M McCarthy, J Conan, J Murphy, J Heaslip (capt).

Castres: J Dumora; R Martial, T Combezou, R Cabannes (capt), M Garvey; D Kirkpatrick, R Kockott; S Taumoepeau, MA Rallier, R Herrera, R Gray, C Samson, I Diarra, J Bornman, J Beattie.

Verdict: Leinster


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