Tuesday 22 May 2018

Shadow boxing at the RDS but Leinster can win on points

Leinster's Seán Cronin. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Seán Cronin. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

The two best sides in the Guinness PRO14 meet twice in the space of three weeks but, sadly, the shadow of the Six Nations looms large.

The perennial quest for this league to be taken seriously beyond its parochial devotees is badly undermined by such shambolic scheduling.

The weather may be set fair on a track that should suit two of the most expressive sides around but it is a desperate pity that these heavyweights must clash without their leading stars.

With the majority of front-liners encased in national camp ahead of a certain contest down the road next weekend, punters must instead make do with patchwork collectives.

Like last season, they may have to wait until the knockouts to determine which of them is truly the superior outfit.

Nevertheless, there could be much to enthral - Jordan Larmour ironing out some crinkles from full-back for one - as these sides aim to bounce back from seeing their second strings implode in differing fashions away from home last week.

Six Nations debutant Larmour joins hooker Seán Cronin as one of two starters from the squad that featured against Italy last week, with Jordi Murphy also released from Ireland duty to earn his 100th provincial cap. Leinster make seven changes from the side that tossed away a win in Edinburgh last weekend; Scarlets make just two from that thwarted by Treviso as the sides backboning their national squads meet for the first of two crunch conference encounters.

"It's always a challenge at this time of year moving guys in and out," admits Cullen, whose side topped their conference for the first time last week thanks to their two bonus points in self-inflicted defeat.

"Scarlets are in a similar situation and they are more affected now than in previous seasons. It's a balancing act, getting the best out of guys who are always here and guys in both provincial and international camps.

"They have caused us problems in the recent past. This block is huge for us, we won all four games last year but have lost the first game this time around when leading with five minutes to go.

"We have two games in a short space of time against the Scarlets with the Southern Kings in between. Scarlets are also coming off a loss, I thought they would beat Treviso, and it makes it really tight at the top now."

Larmour supplants Dave Kearney at full-back while James Lowe returns on the wing at the expense of Barry Daly.

On the other wing, Adam Byrne makes his first start since returning from knee surgery, with Fergus McFadden, expected to bench against Wales, making way.

Luke McGrath, who'll captain the team, comes in to replace Jamison Gibson-Park at scrum-half; he is involved in a shoot-out of sorts this weekend with Connacht's Kieran Marmion for the fluid sub slot at the Aviva.

Ed Byrne and Cronin replace Peter Dooley and Richardt Strauss in the front-row, while Murphy comes in for Will Connors in the back-row.

Academy player Ciarán Frawley, highly touted by Cullen yesterday, will make his Leinster debut from the bench.

For the champions, Steve Cummins and Josh Macleod slot into the pack, Cummins replacing Lewis Rawlins with No 8 Macleod taking over from Will Boyde.

"It probably doesn't help us that they lost last week, they'll probably be on edge," notes a rueful Scarlets' head coach, Wayne Pivac.

Leinster haven't lost at home in any competition since December 2015, apart from the semi-final shocker here last May.

They will earn a sliver of revenge today.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster - J Larmour; A Byrne, R O'Loughlin, N Reid, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); E Byrne, S Cronin, M Bent, R Molony, S Fardy, Josh Murphy, Jordi Murphy, M Deegan. Reps: R Strauss, P Dooley, O Heffernan, I Nagle, W Connors, N McCarthy, C Frawley, B Daly.

Scarlets - J McNicholl; T Prydie, P Asquith, S Hughes (capt), I Nicholas; D Jones, J Evans; D Evan, R Elias, W Kruger, S Cummins, D Bulbring, T Beirne, J Davies, J MacLeod. Reps: E Phillips, P Price, S Gardiner, L Rawlins, W Boyde, D Smith, C Baldwin, T Williams.

Ref - John Lacey (IRFU)

  • Leinster v Scarlets, Live, Sky Sports, 3.15

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