Reinforced Leinster should eke out victory against the Scarlets
Province welcomes back internationals for Pro12 clash against unbeaten table-toppers
Talented Leinster back Garry Ringrose lines out at outside centre, having taken man-of-the-match award in win over Glasgow Warriors. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Opportunities were dispensed liberally while frontline players were away on Ireland duty at the World Cup, and the repatriation of the latter category to playing duties has been staggered over last Sunday’s match against Benetton Treviso and tonight’s game against unbeaten Guinness Pro12 leaders, the Scarlets, at the RDS.
Ireland’s premature departure from the World Cup meant that players returned to the province a little earlier than anticipated and while the logistics of reintegration are significant, Cullen isn’t complaining.
“We try to look at the positives rather than the challenges that we face.”
Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner, Ian Madigan, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip all start their first games of the season in the blue of Leinster, as Cullen changes the entire team from the one that returned from Italy with a bonus-point victory over Treviso.
But it is the flesh on the experienced skeleton that will arguably pique the interest of supporters to a greater degree.
Garry Ringrose has already offered glimpses of his prodigious talent, scoring one try in four starts, including picking up the man-of-the-match award in the narrow win over the Glasgow Warriors.
He switches from the wing to his preferred position of outside centre, while Cian Kelleher (21), the province’s leading try scorer in the British & Irish Cup last season and another gifted footballer, is given a chance on the left wing. He starts for the first time, as does 24-year-old hooker, James Tracy.
The Scarlets’ coach admitted: “It’s our biggest test of the season. With our squad it’s pretty much how we manage the side over the next three weeks because sandwiched between this and the next round (December) of European games we’ve got Zebre at home and Treviso away in the Pro12, which are must-win games for us when we look at the overall picture of the season.
“So it’s a tricky time and injuries don’t help; certainly we rested a couple last week and we’ll have them back this week for the Leinster match and a couple will get a rest. Hopefully we get through this period unscathed and get a few results.”
True to his word he has changed around the team – Welsh scrumhalf Gareth Davies is one of those returning – but one player retained is the outstanding openside flanker James Davies, the younger brother of Lions and Wales centre Jonathan, who has been in tremendous form.
Pivac explained: “He’s a great young player; he’s really benefitted from playing sevens for a couple of years. Stats-wise last week’s game he topped tackled stats, he topped metres gained, he topped carries made, line breaks, so he’s pretty much the top player, we think.”
He explained: “We’re always looking for different ways in how we can manage our season but we struggled at times last year. We went hard at Europe and it had a knock-on effect where we had a disappointing league campaign.
“The challenge for us is to balance the two tournaments. We need to be careful because of the qualification process, need to make sure we are in a good position in the league and learn lessons from last season.”
The Scarlets have won all six Pro12 games to date and deservedly sit atop the table, but Leinster will be keen to ensure momentum going into the Champions Cup next week, and although there are likely to be a few teething problems with unit skills they should still have just about enough to eke out a win.