Intriguing selection poser for Cullen as hungry Munster’s challenge looms

Despite short turnaround to Toulon test, assistant coach McBryde says Leinster’s total focus for now must be on Pro14 final

Harry Byrne: the Leinster outhalf experienced  a chastising endgame in defeat to Ospreys last weekend. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Harry Byrne: the Leinster outhalf experienced a chastising endgame in defeat to Ospreys last weekend. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

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The artistry of selecting from 57 players has become one of Leo Cullen’s weekly chores.

For Robin McBryde, the former Welsh hooker who puts the Leinster pack through their paces, so Cullen can manage the overall operation, the “balancing act” ahead of Munster’s visit to the RDS for Saturday’s Pro 14 final, before Toulon come calling the following Friday, is a relatively new experience.

“I’ve got to depend on Leo, Stuart Lancaster] and Felipe [Contepomi],” said McBride, “they have had the experience of being in this situation before and understanding the dynamics and emotions of everybody.

“The one thing we can’t do is look any further than Munster. Yes, there is a short week turnaround to Toulon, which is on a Friday but we can’t worry about that because the most important thing is winning the game against Munster so whatever team we pick is the best to do that on Saturday.”

The usual comparisons to a Test match, poorly disguised as an interprovincial, were repeated but Friday’s team selections will enhance or rubbish this well -worn line.

The names at outhalf will tell supporters everything they need to know about the oncoming intensity. Either Byrne brother, be it Ross – who has languished as third choice Irish 10 for most of the Six Nations – or Harry – who had a chastising end game in defeat to Ospreys last weekend – will be highly motivated by the sight of Joey Carbery in the Munster side.

But the most exciting subplot would have Johnny Sexton renewing his fledgling rivalry against a fit-again Carbery.

With James Ryan still ruled out by concussion – this game also comes too soon for Caelan Doris’s recovery from brain injury while Garry Ringrose (ankle) and Will Connors (knee, eight weeks) are back in rehab – Devin Toner is set to supplant Gordon D’Arcy as Leinster’s most-capped player on 262 appearances.

“Dev’s a great man to work with,” said McBride. “When you come into our training facility here, it’s written ‘drive the legacy’. Someone like him is driving his own legacy because he’s helping others around him.

“The lineout is obviously his bread and butter but just the way he conducts himself with the youngsters. This last block of games we’ve had, where we’ve had numerous first appearances for young players putting their foot on the first rung of the professional ladder really, to have somebody of Dev’s experience and knowledge to be able to help them along the way there is invaluable really.

“He’s always going to be above everybody because of his height but also because of the calmness he brings, it is good to build things around him.”

Unlike the imminent retirements of Munster duo CJ Stander and Billy Holland, Toner (34) intends to continue playing next season but Leinster have yet to confirm a contract extension.

Last game

“If you feel good enough, then play for as long as you can because once you finish playing nothing else comes close, not even coaching,” McBryde confirmed.

“It could be Billy Holland and CJ Stander’s last game. That is going to motivate them a little bit more. However, it is a final. You don’t need a lot more motivation. It is very easy to tip things over and be too emotional.”

Calm, controlled emotions are easier said than done with Munster hunting their first trophy since this very fixture in 2011 while Leinster are closing in on a fourth successive title.

It all comes back to striking the right note on those tricky selection chords. For example, Hugo Keenan and Dave Kearney have been in outstanding form but how will Leinster handle the disappointing few months James Lowe has suffered in the international arena?

“People react in different ways to different environments, you’ve got relationships with different people and there’s a different way of playing, different way of giving feedback,” said McBryde on the Lowe conundrum. “There are all manner of things you need to consider when you look at a player in a certain environment.

“The environment doesn’t suit everybody. If you don’t suit the environment then something’s got to change, either the environment or yourself as an individual but that’s all I can say from James’ point of view. He’s his usual self, bouncing around here, he’s not slow with any quips. He looks energetic, glad to be back and up for the fight.”

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