Thursday 15 November 2018

'It's a tricky balance' - Leo Cullen explains much-changed selection

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen in conversation with Jonathan Sexton
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen in conversation with Jonathan Sexton

Rúaidhrí O'Connor at the Aviva Stadium

Leo Cullen has explained his decision to heavily rotate his team for tomorrow’s clash with Munster at the Aviva Stadium.

The Leinster coach has made 11 changes to the side that beat Connacht at the Sportsground last weekend, retaining Rob Kearney, James Lowe, Devin Toner and Rhys Ruddock who captains the side in Johnny Sexton's absence.

Munster, however, have named close to their strongest possible squad for the game with Joey Carbery back to face his former team and old rival Ross Byrne at out-half.

Both teams begin their European seasons next weekend and Leinster are constrained by having a day less to prepare for the opening night of their title defence against Wasps.

"It's a tricky balance this time of year, there is a lot of different variables," Cullen said after overseeing training at Lansdowne Road.

"We'd a very tough, physical game against Connacht last week, we've guys coming back at different stages and so we're trying to fit it into an overall plan.

"With the game next week, how manage the group... ultimately we've tried to pick a team that we think will be able to perform on the day and we hope is going to get the result we want as well."

Cullen was wary of making so many changes knowing what was coming up the M7.

"It's always a concern, yeah," he said.

"Munster, we know a lot of the threats they have. They've changed slightly this season and have a different focus. It's hard to get a true gauge through their games, they've had very big wins at home and they've lost the two games they've played away.

"So, a lot of similar threats, guys we'd be familiar with. Even the guys that have come in, like Tadhg, that we know well. Joey as well.

Alby Mathewson is probably the one who we haven't seen as much footage on, he's had a period out of the game. We saw some of his clips from Toulon last year and the 50 odd minutes he had last weekend.

"That's something a little bit different in the mix, but we'll expect a nice, physical contest as normal."

Byrne led Leinster to victory over Munster at Thomond Park last December, before donning the No 10 shirt for the Guinness PRO14 semi-final victory at the RDS in May.

"Ross has been such a key figure for us, if you think of the number of starts he had last year. Off the top of my head it was 16 or 17, he played in that  semi-final against Munster in the RDS and led the team unbelievably well. He started  a number of games in Europe as well," Cullen said.

"He's led the week well this week, he's getting better all the time. That's what we want from all of the players, just to continuously improve, regardless of what age they are.

"We expect that from our most senior guys as well, having that mindset where they want to get better."

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