Leo Cullen casting his net wide for Newcastle friendly

Gavin Coombes starts at number eight for Munster as London-Irish visit Musgrave Park

With Cardiff Blues lined up for Leinster in their opening game of the Pro14 season, tonight’s friendly run out against Newcastle on the 4G surface ought to be instructive.

Leo Cullen is casting his net wide, bringing a starting team as well as 11 players on the bench to Donnybrook and 10 changes to the starting side from last week’s 18-17 win over US Montauban at Stade Sapiac.

The Premiership side came fourth last season in the league and made it to the semi-finals and this will be Leinster’s last outing before they travel to Cardiff to begin the season on the Welsh club’s all-weather pitch.

Dave Kearney, who returned last week against Montauban, slots in at fullback while Scott Fardy captains the side which features a mix of young legs and old heads.

Caelan Doris hopes to kick on from last year. He starts at number eight with Josh Murphy at blindside and Will Connors at seven for Rhys Ruddock. Murphy played a couple of games last season and Connors won a man-of-the-match award against Scarlets in February.

“They’re used to playing on this artificial surface as well, which is part of the terms of choosing that type of team to play in pre-season,” said Cullen. The match kicks off at 7.00pm on Friday.

Munster coach Johann van Graan has also named a 30-man squad for Friday’s clash with London Irish at Musgrave Park (7.30pm). Again the side is laced with experience and youth – no more so than in the back row where Ireland’s Tommy O’Donnell captains the side with Munster Rugby Academy player Gavin Coombes starting at number eight.

Tipperary prop Cronan Gleeson, who has trained with the squad during pre-season, is also among the front row replacements. Former Irish U-20s Calvin Nash is at fullback and winger Stephen Fitzgerald teams up with Darren Sweetnam in the back three.

New signings Neil Cronin and Mike Haley are among the replacements along with Ian Keatley. Gleeson, Jack Daly, Alex McHenry, Liam Coombes and Mike Haley are all expected make their first senior appearances for Munster in the clash.

Ulster will also have a run out in Kingspan Stadium against Gloucester at 5.30pm on Saturday while Connacht head to Dubarry Park, Athlone for their friendly clash against Premiership side Wasps, also on Saturday, at 3.00pm.

LEINSTER: D Kearney; H Keenan, R O'Loughlin, J Tomane, B Daly; C Frawley, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, J Tracy, M Bent, S Fardy, M Kearney, J Murphy, Will Connors, C Doris. Replacements: P Dooley, B Byrne, V Abdaladze, R Molony, I Nagle, M Deegan, L McGrath, J O'Brien, J Lowe, T Daly, A Byrne

MUNSTER: S Fitzgerald; C Nash, D Goggin, R Scannell, D Sweetnam; JJ Hanrahan, J Hart; J Loughman, K O'Byrne, B Scott; F Wycherley, D O'Shea; D O'Callaghan, T O'Donnell (C), G Coombes. Replacements: M Sherry, C Gleeson, D Kilcoyne, C Parker, B Holland, J Kleyn, S O'Connor, J Daly, N Cronin, J Stafford, I Keatley, S Daly, A McHenry, L Coombes, M Haley.

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