Caelan Doris to make his first start in blue for Pro14 opener

Leo Cullen has named his team for trip to Cardiff and there’s a debut for Joe Tomane

Even with many of the frontline international players in a staggered comeback and still a few weeks away from playing, head coach Leo Cullen has managed to field a strong and versatile Leinster side for their first match of the season (kick off: Friday 7.35pm - live on eir Sport/TG4) in Cardiff Arms Park.

The opener is a clash of the European Champions Cup winners against the European Challenge Cup winners.

It’s a difficult start and Leinster will have to play a slightly different game on the Blues plastic pitch. To that end Cullen has plenty of mobility in the travelling squad.

New signing Joe Tomane makes his league debut in the centre, although he can play around the pitch and is a strong wing option too.


The players have been impressed with the 28-year-old since he arrived from Montpellier over the summer. Given the makeup of the Leinster team and the retirement of Isa Nacewa at the end of last season, his experience at all levels is added value to the team as well as Rory O'Loughlin, who starts outside him in the centre.

One to watch Caelan Doris will make his first start having made his debut from the bench away to Connacht last season.

Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne and last season's Pro14 top try scorer Barry Daly gives Leinster a pacey threat from all sides, while in the half backs Leinster have two strong controlling influences, which they badly missed against Newcastle in their friendly in Donnybrook a couple of weeks ago. Scrumhalf Luke McGrath, who came on against Newcastle and made some difference, is partnered by Ross Byrne who wins his 50th cap for the province.

The front row consists of Peter Dooley, James Tracy and Michael Bent, with Ross Molony and Scott Fardy in behind them. The backrow provides a snapshot of Leinster present and future with Josh Murphy and captain Rhys Ruddock starting on the flanks with the impressive Doris at number eight.

"What we want is a fast start," said new coaching recruit and former Leinster outhalf, Felipe Contepomi. "We had a good preparation towards this game. I think there's a great buzz and we know the challenge we are facing. They are also European Champions, you know Challenge Cup champions. We are definitely up for that."

Leinster also have a decent bench with Irish prop Andrew Porter, Max Deegan, Jamison Gibson-Park and Fergus McFadden all primed for impact.

For Cardiff Jason Harries, Rory Thornton and Dmitri Arhip all make their Pro14 debuts following their summer moves to Cardiff Arms Park, while Ellis Jenkins returns to captain.

"It is a great way for us to kick-off the season - the European Challenge Cup champions against the Pro14 and Champions Cup winners," said Cardiff head coach John Mulvihill.

“You have to play the best and it will be a massive challenge but if you saw the way these boys finished last season, they love a challenge and that will certainly be coming at us on Friday night.

“We’ve had two solid pre-season games without being outstanding so it’s about us learning from those two experiences and making sure we get things right on Friday.”

While Leinster completed the league and cup double Cardiff Blues finished last season winning 11 of their last 13 matches after a slow start. It caused them to miss out on the playoffs. That is certain to be on their minds on Friday night.

LEINSTER: Dave Kearney; Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin, Joe Tomane, Barry Daly; Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Michael Bent; Ross Molony, Scott Fardy; Josh Murphy, Rhys Ruddock (Capt), Caelan Doris .

Replacement: Bryan Byrne, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Mick Kearney, Max Deegan, Jamison Gibson-Park, Noel Reid, Fergus McFadden.

CARDIFF BLUES: M Morgan; J Harries, W Halaholo, R Lee-Lo, O Lane; J Evans, L Williams; B Thyer, K Dacey, D Arhip; S Davies, R Thornton; J Turnbull, E Jenkins, N Williams.

Replacements: R Gill, E Lewis, S Andrews, G Earle, O Robinson, T Williams, S Shingler, G Smith

Referee: Nigel Owens

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times