'We think his strengths suit this challenge' - Leo Cullen explains decision to recall McGrath for Saracens clash
Leo Cullen said the decision to recall Jack McGrath to his Leinster bench for tomorrow’s Heineken Champions Cup final was based on the Lion’s big-game experience.
The champions came through their final training session at St James’ Park in Newcastle without incident, with Sean Cronin fit to take his place in an unchanged starting team from the semi-final.
The only changes are on the bench, where McGrath comes in to cover loosehead after missing the previous knock-out games. Ed Byrne, who came off the bench in the quarter and semi-final wins, misses out on selection.
Rhys Ruddock also comes in for Caelan Doris after recovering from his concussion.
Michael Bent holds his place as tighthead cover despite Andrew Porter’s return to fitness.
"Selection has been tough over the course of the year, in a good way I think," Cullen said.
"There’s a couple of guys who had to get some bad news this week, even though the 15 is the same there were a couple of tweaks along the way and a couple of changes on the bench as well.
"Some of the selection decisions certainly weren’t taken lightly. It means a huge amount to the wider group, a lot of guys that aren’t involved in the 23 prepared the team this week and it is also hugely important to the overall outcomes and the levels of performance that we see at the weekends.
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"So some tough decisions. This 15 did a good job in the semi-final, there’s always temptations as coaches to tweak with that but we’re going with the same team.
"Jack [McGrath] has a lot of experience playing at the highest level and in terms of the way we think the game will unfold, his strengths suit this challenge.
"Andrew Porter’s a little bit unlucky, he picked up the injury and hasn’t really featured the last few weeks.
"He has trained fully this week and was available but it was just a little bit too tight with him. Michael Bent, he’s been so important to us over the course of the season, you think back to some of the games when we’re down 15, 20 players and he’s come up with five scrum penalties.
"He’s been hugely important to the success of the group over the course of the season."
Cullen is hopeful that Cronin can get through the game having picked up a calf injury in the semi-final win over Toulouse.
"We'll soon find out, yeah. When a guy picks up an injury in the semi-final, his calf, we knew it was going to be a little bit tight with Sean but he's trained ok this week and hopefully he's good to go.
"You never have 100% certainty but for a final, you take a little bit of a chance. But he's trained this week, so hopefully he comes through ok."
Having missed last season’s final as a result of the restrictions on overseas players, James Lowe keeps his place on the left wing and Cullen is hoping the New Zealander can add a layer of danger to his side’s attack.
"He's a very good finisher, he's very unpredictable in terms of what he's going to deliver in terms of attack, so he'll be great," Cullen said.
"Some of the conversations we've had last year and this year with Jamison and Scott and himself, it's been a sub-plot every week in terms of who is going to be involved, so yeah we spend a lot of time trying to map it out and talking to them and the three of them I have to say are outstanding people.
"When they get picked it's almost that they're gutted for the one that misses out, so that's what James actually said to me, that he was so gutted for Jamison when he picked up that injury.
"But anyway, it is what it is. All three of those characters have been outstanding in terms of what they've added to Leinster, and hopefully there will be many more games for them."