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Gibson-Park to get starting role for Saints trip as Cullen rings changes

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Jamison Gibson-Park is one of the big guns likely to be recalled by Leinster

Jamison Gibson-Park is one of the big guns likely to be recalled by Leinster

SPORTSFILE

Jamison Gibson-Park is one of the big guns likely to be recalled by Leinster

Jamison Gibson-Park is set for a surprise start in Leinster's Heineken Champions Cup clash against Northampton tomorrow.

Leo Cullen will ring the changes when Leinster announce their team at midday as he recalls the big guns - most of whom were given last weekend off.

Gibson-Park has been on the bench for his side's opening two European wins, but is in line to be promoted with Luke McGrath dropping to the replacements. The Kiwi scrum-half, who recently became Irish-qualified, has played nine games this season, including six starts.

Jordan Larmour may revert to full-back with Dave Kearney pushing for a recall in the starting XV at the expense of his older brother Rob.

Otherwise, the back-line is likely to be as expected with Johnny Sexton skippering the side from out-half alongside Gibson-Park.

Up front, Devin Toner may partner James Ryan in the engine room with the fit-again Caelan Doris piling the pressure on Max Deegan for the No 8 shirt.

Rónan Kelleher will continue his run in the first team in a front-row with Ireland internationals Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong.

Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock are expected to continue in the back-row despite the impressive form of Will Connors.

Northampton will be without England international Courtney Lawes (hamstring) and former All Black prop Owen Franks (thumb) for the clash at Franklin's Gardens.

Northampton have been flying high in their domestic competition, winning four from five to go with their victories in the Champions Cup over Lyon at home and Benetton away.

Leinster have won all three tests at Franklin's Gardens in the European Cup in 2000, 2013 and 2016, the last two by an average of 30 points.

This is reason enough for Cullen to be cautious about what his side will come across tomorrow.

There are scores to be settled, even if just five Northampton forwards remain at the club from the starting 15 in 2016.

The front-row of Alex Waller, Mikey Haywood and Paul Hill, lock Lawes and the old stager Tom Wood are on the roster, all but Hill starting against Lyon in the first round.

"In certain circumstances, a losing bonus point is not the end of the world," said Cullen.

"Whatever situation we find ourselves in, it's just about making sure we try and maximise every point we can from the fixture.

"It's not trying to talk in clichés here, but it's that piece of Europe that is a little bit unique isn't it? Just trying to get everything we can possible from all these games."

Leinster's youth movement is one that is being followed by their hosts. Cullen has noticed how the East-Midlands club has cut its cloth to measure the resources they have at Franklin's Gardens.

"They have a lot of young players coming through that they've given a lot of chances to, very similar to what we've tried to do," Cullen continued.

"They are probably one of the first English teams for a while to really have that model."

Irish Independent