Monday 16 July 2018

Cullen forced to test depth of squad in bid to extend winning run

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen during squad training at UCD, Belfield in Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen during squad training at UCD, Belfield in Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

All good things must come to an end and so it seems highly likely that Leinster's rich vein of form will not continue into November.

Surely even the deep, deep squad managed by Leo Cullen cannot survive a list of absentees that contains international players for every position and even a bit of a bench as they travel to Scotland this evening.

Their hosts, Glasgow Warriors, are depleted but retain more of their European starters than the Irish province for whom Scott Fardy is the only survivor from the XV that won at Scotstoun two weeks ago in the Champions Cup.

Sure, there are five replacements who return to Glasgow and talented youngsters step up and fill in, but against a team who have yet to lose a Guinness PRO14 game this season it will be a difficult task.

This is the kind of week where your overseas signings count, but Isa Nacewa is injured and James Lowe has yet to arrive, meaning Jamison Gibson-Park and Fardy are on hand to lead, along with Sean Cronin whose curious omission from the Ireland squad boosts Leinster.

Dave Kearney and Adam Byrne are released from the squad to staff the wings, while Dan Leavy is also given an opportunity to get some game-time off the bench.

Jamison Gibson-Park beats a tackle from Glasgow's Finn Russell. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jamison Gibson-Park beats a tackle from Glasgow's Finn Russell. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Clontarf RFC youngster Conor O'Brien is handed his debut alongside Rory O'Loughlin in the centre, while UCD's Josh Murphy is also in line for a a first senior appearance off the bench as Cullen is forced to dip into his resources.

Jordan Larmour, the star of last week's win in Belfast, is handed the No 15 shirt and will hope to build on his excellent showing againt Ulster while Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne renew their partnership from that win.

Up front, Cronin is joined by Ed Byrne and Michael Bent in a solid front-row, with Ross Molony captaining the team from the second-row. Fardy starts at blindside for the first time since joining, lining up alongside Jordi Murphy and Max Deegan in the back-row.

Leinster were able to get the better of the physical exchanges on their last visit to this stadium, but that seems less likely given the fire-power they are missing.

Dave Rennie had 19 players training with their international teams, but 11 return to feature in his match-day 23 and while preparation has been affected he has handed fellow Kiwi Callum Gibbins the captaincy for continuity.

"We've just got on with things," the former Chiefs supremo said.

"Tactically things aren't going to change from the last time we played Leinster, we just need to do things better."

Given the new combinations across the board for Leinster and the inexperience behind the scrum, in particular, they will be confident of making it eight from eight.

A bonus point would be a good return for Leinster

Verdict: Glasgow Warriors.

Glasgow Warriors - R Jackson; L Masaga, N Grigg, S Johnson, N Matawalu; P Horne, G Horne; J Bhatti, G Turner, D Rae; T Swinson, S Cummings; R Harley, C Gibbons (capt), M Fagerson. Reps: P MacArthur, A Allan, A Nicol, L Wynne, M Smith, H Pyrgos, A Dunbar, L Sarto.

Leinster - J Larmour; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, C O'Brien, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent; R Molony (capt), M Kearney; S Fardy, Jordi Murphy, M Deegan. Reps: R Strauss, P Dooley, A Porter, Josh Murphy, D Leavy, N McCarthy, C Marsh, H Keenan.

Ref - S Berry (South Africa)

Glasgow Warriors v Leinster, 7.35; LIVE BBC Alba

Irish Independent

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