Sunday 21 January 2018

Hot prospect Conan can guide Leinster 'A' to home final berth

Leinster's Jack Conan
Leinster's Jack Conan
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

With Leinster's European hopes having come to a premature end, their focus this weekend is on the 'A' side who travel to Wales to take on Pontypridd in the semi-final of the British & Irish Cup.

Girvan Dempsey's side have been in irresistible form throughout this season's competition.

Having won all six of their pool games, Leinster demolished Munster in a quarter-final display that signalled their intent to reclaim their title.

With Leinster not having to prepare for a European game this weekend, it allowed Dempsey plenty of time to work with his side, which is ominous given that the coach spoke of not having a lot of time prior to their quarter-final triumph.

Prop Tadhg Furlong returns from an ankle injury to bolster a Leinster team that includes plenty of players with Pro12 experience, but Pontypridd will not fear the reigning champions as they have already beaten them in this competition.

An injury-time try gave the Welsh side a 25-23 win at Sardis Road three years ago, and Leinster won't need reminding of the threat that they pose when they play at the same venue this afternoon.

Noel Reid will be looking to continue his fine form when he partners Collie O'Shea in the centre. Brendan Macken is shifted onto the wing, while Leinster will look to get the speedy Sam Coghlan-Murray involved as much as they can.

A late Simon Humberstone penalty gave Pontypridd a 16-14 win over Cornish Pirates in their quarter-final clash.

Humberstone, along with lock Chris Dicomidis, has once again been made available from the Cardiff Blues and they will provide plenty of experience for the Welsh outfit.

Cathal Marsh was Leinster's man of the match in their 47-15 drubbing of Munster. His control from out-half was outstanding and was a measure of how much he has improved this season.

Incidentally, Marsh (93) and Humberstone (75) are the tournament's two highest points scorers, and their place-kicking will be crucial.

Up front, there is plenty of power. Furlong's inclusion is a huge lift for Dempsey, and he will form a new front-row partnership with James Tracy and Ed Byrne.

The vastly experienced Dominic Ryan again captains Leinster from openside flanker, while Jack Conan will be keen to build on what has already been a major breakthrough season for the Old Belvedere player.

Conan was overlooked for the AIL's Young Player of the Season award this week, but he is a someone who will undoubtedly feature more prominently in the Pro12 next season.

A powerful and abrasive ball carrier, Conan could well be the difference between the sides today as Leinster seek to book their place in what would be a home final in Donnybrook.

Verdict: Leinster 'A'

Pontypridd – G Walsh; L Williams, A Thomas, D Lockyer (capt), O Jenkins; S Humberstone, J Raikes; J Howe, L Belcher, K Jenkins; C Locke, C Dicomidis; W O'Connor, R Shellard, D Godfrey. Reps: L Williams, D Flanagan, A Summerhill, A Morris, J Sieniawski, O Sheppeard, C Phillips.

Leinster 'A' – D Hudson; B Macken, C O'Shea, N Reid, S Coghlan-Murray; C Marsh, L McGrath; E Byrne, J Tracy, T Furlong; T Denton, Q Roux; B Marshall, D Ryan (capt), J Conan. Reps: B Byrne, J O'Connell, R Molony, L Auva'a, J Cooney, S Crosbie, A Boyle.

Irish Independent

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