Time for Leinster to step up and set down a marker

The Dubliners will need to be on their game to ensure an expected victory over Castres

Leinster’s Joey Carbery runs in his and Leinster’s second try in their Pro12 clash with Treviso at the RDS. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Nothing short of victory will be acceptable but the colour of Leinster’s expected dominance changed shades at noon on Friday.

Castres perspective at 11.59am: Give the October rounds of Champions Cup a rattle, maybe out-muscle little Leinster in Dublin, steal a win, definitely batter Northampton at home. If it works out, great, if not, to hell with Europe and focus on avoiding relegation from the money making machine (Currently they lie eleventh after eight rounds of Top 14).

Castres perspective at 12.01pm: Excellentes nouvelle, no Sexton!

Should this heavyweight French pack stay the course, as they have previously done at the RDS, aided by rolling out the reserves around 50-60 minutes along with master tactician Rory Kockott – so good France capped the South African 11 times – then an upset is possible.


What are the chances of Sexton’s “tight hamstring” healing before the journey to Montpellier? “Pretty good, yeah,” Leo Cullen assured us.

At least the opportunity to see Joey Carbery under the European microscope gives the fussy RDS gallery a much needed cortisone injection.

“Bit of unpredictability I guess,” Cullen countered to the suggestion that Castres have got an even greater shot in the arm from Sexton’s absence. “They won’t know Joey as well as they would Johnny. Joey this season has done a hell of a lot more reps in the team than Johnny.”

True, true Carbery has been impressive but anyone see Sexton against Munster? Looked smoother than ever.

“We’ve seen Joey’s ability to attack the line, his foot work,” said Rob Kearney. “Obviously Johnny is a very complete player so he doesn’t have too many deficiencies but here are a few things Joey can bring.

We’ve seen this season that he does have that tactical awareness if he needs to manage the game he can do that.”

Still, it puts an increased responsibility on Luke McGrath whose performances are keeping the naturally gifted non-Irish qualified Kiwi scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park on the bench.

Fact remains that Rodrigo Capo Ortega, the Uruguayan being Castres’ version of Mick Galway, and the other seven monsters up front will see a real chance to grind out a win, providing they snatch a try or two via their unpredictable offloading game.

“Capo Ortega is a real spiritual leader of that club, he’s been there a long time, lots of experience,” Cullen continued. “A lot of these guys have won a Top 14 so they done it on the big stage.

“I think they will take us on physically with Antoine Dupont at nine and Benjamin Urdapilleta at 10 are dangerous runners and David Smith is as good as any winger out there.”

Coach Cullen’s rotational policy remains very interesting. Jordi Murphy, fresh from his aggressive showing against Munster, is replacing Josh van der Flier in the stand. The men who Leinster need to carry them over the gain line, Seanie O’Brien and Jack Conan, are back on the field of play over in Richmond with the A team, along with the hugely promising Ireland under-20s captain James Ryan who is nearly ready. In the meantime, 27-year-old Ian Nagle makes his European debut alongside Devin Toner.

“Ian’s a player that has always intrigued me,” said Cullen. “Last time he played in RDS might have been an A game semi-final when Munster beat Leinster. I thought he was head and shoulders the best player on the field that day.

“There is a bit of a risk because he has been out of the game so long but he has applied himself and deserves his start.”

If Nagle reaches full potential Leinster have a pack to match any eight in the Champions Cup. You know all about the loosehead double act and Jamie Heaslip is already showing Lions form while Rhys Ruddock ruined a rake of Munster rucks last Saturday. There is also Dan Leavy to consider off the bench. St Michael's College folk have been waiting for the day Leinster build a pack around Leavy and Ryan. Should come in November.

To counteract the fact that Castres have never won an opening game away from home, Cullen also complimented the coaching career of Christophe Urios.

But maybe Graham Henry was right – maybe the age of Carbery is beginning far sooner than anyone, bar 'Ted', imagined.

Certainly worth a look.

Leinster: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Carbery, L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, I Nagle; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Heaslip. Replacements: J Tracy, C Healy, M Ross, R Molony, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, C Marsh, N Reid.

Castres: G Palis; R Grosso, T Combezou, R Ebersohn, D Smith; B Urdapilleta, A Dupont; A Tichit, J Jenneker, D Kotze; V Moreaux, R Cap Ortega (capt); M Babillot, S Mafi, A Tulou. Replacements: B Mach, M Lazar, D Tussac, T Lassale, A Jelonch, R Kockott, M Javaux, F Vialelle.

Referee: Matthew Carley (England).

Betting: Leinster (-12) 10/11 to win.

Verdict: Home win sans bonus point.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent