Leinster and Ulster’s second strings get a chance to impress
Starting lineups for this January interpro aren’t full of stars but there’s plenty at stake
Leinster’s Ciarán Frawley is a man with a point to prove in the Pro14 encounter against Ulster at the RDS on Saturday. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Pro 14: Leinster v Ulster
Kick off: 5.15pm, Saturday. Venue: RDS. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will start from 4.45pm. On TV: Live on EirSport 1.
It’s an 18,300 sell out but season ticket holders may glance at these lineups, feel plummeting temperatures, which brings threat of influenza after a hectic Christmas and return to the sanctity of their living rooms (or nearest public house for those not subscribed to EirSport).
This is a strictly second string affair with brighter lights, like Jack McGrath and Leinster captain for the evening Rob Kearney, in need of some rugby. Toulouse enter the RDS in seven days for a game of real consequence.
Ulster’s blatant lack of players just below international standard, following a mass exodus, retirement or otherwise, leaves them lacking the key ingredient for any successful sports club (Exhibit A: Leinster). This selection makes that plain to see. In defence of Dan McFarland, the removal of recent propping debris shows an impressive ruthlessness with a delve into academy stocks providing constant opportunity for lesser known young talent from both Ulster and Leinster.
The form of fullback Michael Lowry can already be pointed to a successful return in a season that heretofore has been admirably managed by the new coach.
Former players – Nick Timoney, Greg Jones, Dave Shanahan and Ulster captain Alan O’Connor – return to their home province this evening.
Unfortunately, Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy are kept on ice as Racing 92’s visit Belfast next Saturday.
Ulster remain on track for the European and Pro 14 knockout stages. Not much more can be asked of McFarland until the squad gets a significant injection of quality.
Still, a bonus point Leinster victory is expected despite the selection of only two from next week’s starting XV as Kearney and Sean Cronin are rotated in. The bookmakers 23-point handicap spread seems a reachable target.
Leo Cullen’s investment in Ciarán Frawley at outhalf continues despite his pre-programmed pass being picked off by Keith Earls in Limerick last week. It was a cruel lesson for the 21-year-old Skerries man as the contest ended in that moment.
“We wanted to expose Ciarán to Thomond Park last week when he came on for Johnny [Sexton] in the last 20 minutes,” said Cullen. “It’s another great step against Ulster in an interprovincial game and all the additional pressure that goes with that.”
The intercept pass aside, Frawley has looked the part since Joey Carbery moved to Munster, certainly enough for Ross Byrne to be glancing over his shoulder.
“Ciarán’s working really hard with Felipe [Contepomi] and Emmet [Farrell] and Stu [Lancaster]. Through his underage rugby he played 10, 12 and a little bit at 15 as well. He’s a good athlete, moves well, and his kicking is 100 per cent at the moment so I’ve probably put a curse on him there.”
Byrne warms the bench as Captain Sexton is on ice.
“Across the board, it’s about giving everyone in the group an opportunity to play across the three interpros, so what we’ve done is started with different teams and mixed and matched from the bench. Ross started against Connacht, Johnny started last week and Ciarán starts tomorrow.
“We’ve started with three outhalves and with the 21 games we have in the league, and trying to challenge on two fronts, it’s important we build depth. You need to rely on your squad, you can’t rely on the same 15 to get you through the regular Pro14 games, plus the six European games, plus what we hope is some play-off games at the end of the season.
“So we’ve done that in a number of positions, hooker is another example. It’s just making sure we’re conscious of the depth because it is a long season and we are going to have a fair share of injuries so this is a great opportunity for Ciarán. We’re very excited about the game.” Not many people will be.
LEINSTER: R Kearney (capt); A Byrne, C O’Brien, N Reid, B Daly; C Frawley, J Gibson-Park; J McGrath, S Cronin, A Porter; R Molony, M Kearney; Josh Murphy, S Penny, M Deegan.
Replacements: J Tracy, E Byrne, M Bent; O Dowling, C Doris, H O’Sullivan, R Byrne, J O’Brien.
ULSTER: M Lowry; R Lyttle, D Cave, J Hume, A Kernohan; J McPhillips, D Shanahan; K McCall, A McBurney, W Herbst; M Dalton, A O’Connor (capt); G Jones, S Reidy, N Timoney.
Replacements: J Andrew, A Warwick, T O’Toole, C Montgomery, C Ross, J Stewart, B Houston, P Nelson.
Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).
Verdict: Leinster win.