Leinster look to fringe players as European Cup semi-final looms

Guinness Pro14 preview: Leinster v Benetton Rugby (Kick-off 7.45pm – RDS Arena, Dublin; On TV: Eir sport and TG4

Only captain Luke McGrath (above) and Scott Fardy are retained from Leinster’s quarter-final against Ulster. Photograph: Inpho

Only captain Luke McGrath (above) and Scott Fardy are retained from Leinster’s quarter-final against Ulster. Photograph: Inpho

 

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has vowed his Leinster team will be fully focused on maintaining their momentum and the integrity of the competition for the first of three more dead rubbers for his team after securing a home semi-final with room to spare.

But Leinster clearly have one eye on their upcoming European Cup semi-final against Toulouse, with only captain Luke McGrath and Scott Fardy retained from the quarter-final against Ulster.

By contrast Benetton are seeking to reach the play-offs for the first time and Kieran Crowley has restored nine players from the team which lost last time out to Connacht.

These include six of Italy’s starting line-up against Ireland in the Six Nations, amongst them influential outhalf Tommaso Allan and flanker Braam Steyn. Two others, tighthead Simone Ferrari and scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi, are on the bench. Benetton are the only side to have beaten Leinster in Dublin since May 2007, and even allowing for the champions’ unrivalled conveyor belt, Benetton’s plus 13-handicap looks generous.

“They are a well put together team that play a brand of rugby that’s quite hard to break down for us as an attacking team,” admitted Cullen. “For us defensively, they have a lot of threats, a lot of guys who can change the game. Their back three in particular, a lot of pace and power there.”

Although he admitted his views on seeing Jack McGrath follow others to rival provinces are “a little bit mixed, I’d say, depending on the day”, Cullen again sought to see the positives.

“We’d love to be able to sit here and say ‘isn’t it amazing that 60 per cent of Ulster’s players are from Leinster, another 50 over in Connacht and another 50 over in Munster.’ That’d be an amazing reflection on the work that goes on here,” he said, adding: “It’s a positive that people are looking at our players, wanting to sign them. We are not in a position of stockpiling players.”

Johnny Sexton, meanwhile, is “rehabbing this week and will return to training hopefully next week.” Cullen was “reasonably confident” that Sexton will return next week or the week after.

LEINSTER: Barry Daly; Fergus McFadden, Conor O’Brien, Joe Tomane, James Lowe; Noel Reid, Luke McGrath (capt); Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Andrew Porter, Mick Kearney, Scott Fardy, Josh Murphy, Max Deegan, Caelan Doris. Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Jack Dunne, Scott Penny, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ciarán Frawley, Jimmy O’Brien.

BENETTON RUGBY: Jayden Hayward; Ratuva Tavuyara, Marco Zanon, Luca Morisi, Monty Ioane; Tommaso Allan (capt), Dewaldt Duvenage; Nicola Quaglio, Luca Bigi, Marco Riccioni, Irné Herbst, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn, Toa Halafihi. Replacements: Tomas Baravalle, Derrick Appiah, Simone Ferrari, Marco Lazzaroni, Giovanni Pettinelli, Tito Tebaldi, Antonio Rizzi, Alberto Sgarbi.

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)

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