Thursday 14 December 2017

Cullen turns back to tried and trusted for Leinster's bid to 'put record straight'

Leo Cullen's squad changes have been controversial with fans Photo:Sportsfile
Leo Cullen's squad changes have been controversial with fans Photo:Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Steady as she goes. Regardless of what Sean O'Brien might think about the wonderful uncapped talent exploding into life this season, at all clubs, Irish rugby wouldn't want to get itself too worked up, now would it?

In a week when substantially more people professed that Garry Ringrose should start Ireland's next game than would actually know him if he popped around to their house to borrow some sugar, Leinster have pulled the reins in on youth too.

Despite the hugely heartening, and entirely fearless, performances that decorated last weekend's dismissal of Bath, the fact that this is an away game against a much more rounded and in-form side sees caution prevail for Leo Cullen and his brains trust.

So man of the match Ross Molony is not called upon to replicate his endeavours from the start, the front-row trio are all axed - save Peter Dooley, who makes the bench.

Ringrose himself, who was given a couple of days off early in the week after shipping a few heavy knocks, has also been left out of a game in which he could have earned much more of exactly the type of high-level experience that many experts feel he should be getting.

Then again, the rather unsexier fixture against Dragons next Friday is much more important than today's encounter; for Wasps, their focus is unswerving.

Win and they qualify for the last eight for a second successive season; perhaps with a home quarter-final, too, should Bath help them out.

Cullen will need his youthful exuberance next weekend when 17 of his staff flock to Carton House; his brilliant helming of the Pro12 campaign during the World Cup reminds us that his promotion of youth has been no mistake.

Josh van der Flier, the prime example of this breakthrough season, is benched to allow Jordi Murphy, a starter in the World Cup quarter-final, remember, a chance to correct his self-admitted plunge in form.

O'Brien was slated to start but is omitted entirely which, given he will not be allowed to play next weekend and only appeared as a replacement last weekend, seems to be overly prudent.

Joe Schmidt has no influence on provincial selection but O'Brien didn't pick up a late knock and it is difficult to know why Leinster's policy changed as the week continued.

Rhys Ruddock is an interesting call at second-row and Mike McCarthy, another Ireland squad member for Wales, is not on duty at all. Tom Denton had been due to start but for a tight groin. Rob Kearney returns at full-back, resting any doubts as to his health.

Cathal Marsh, potentially Ian Madigan's successor as out-half back-up, will make his European debut from the bench; tentatively, the infusion of new talent maintains some sense of pace. The first-choice out-half, Jonathan Sexton, will captain the side for the first time; one of the vice-captains appointed earlier this season, he was always going to get one chance to do so and Isa Nacewa's minor travail affords him the opportunity. It will scarcely change him.

James Haskell and Joe Launchbury return for Wasps, still bitter according to ex-Leinster man Jimmy Gopperth after last week's last-minute defeat in Toulon, while former Leinster centre Brendan Macken is at inside centre.

Nathan Hughes and Jake Cooper-Woolley have also returned from injury and are named on the bench.

Hughes is set to make his first appearance for Wasps since picking up a calf injury in the away win at Bath, and the hosts are also boosted by the return of tighthead Cooper-Woolley, who has missed their last five games.

Sam Jones moves to No 8, while last Sunday's man of the match, Guy Thompson, will be out for 10-12 weeks with a toe injury. Mental and physical scars abound.

Josh Bassett comes on to the wing as Sailosi Tagicakibau, Ben Jacobs and Simon McIntyre are ruled out because of injuries picked up against Toulon last Sunday.

Gopperth versus Sexton will be a fascinating clash, especially as both men are in top form.

"There's a European quarter-final at stake and I'm sure Leinster will want to come and spoil the party," says Wasps director of rugby Dai Young.

"They were pretty upset after we won in Dublin and I'm sure they will come here wanting to put the record straight. The big thing for us is to finish strong, with a mentality that only a win will do ."

Wasps have a purpose; Leinster seemed to have one last week with so much youthful brio. Hard to see what their motivation is for this one, though.

Verdict: Wasps

Wasps - C Piutau; J Bassett, E Daly, B Macken, F Halai; J Gopperth, J Simpson; M Mullan, E Shervington, L Cittadini, J Launchbury, B Davies, J Haskell (c), G Smith, S Jones.

Reps: A Johnson, T Bristow, J Cooper-Woolley, J Gaskell, N Hughes, D Robson, R Jackson, R Miller.

Leinster - R Kearney; Z Kirchner, L Fitzgerald, N Reid, D Kearney; J Sexton (c), E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Moore, D Toner, R Ruddock, D Ryan, J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Reps: R Strauss, P Dooley, M Bent, R Molony, J van der Flier, I Boss, C Marsh, B Te'o.

Ref - M Reynal (France)

Wasps v Leinster,

Live, BT Sport, 3.15

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