Leinster boss Cullen welcomes return of Henshaw and Toner for Glasgow game
Seán O’Brien to captain the side against the Conference A leaders
Robbie Henshaw and Devin Toner both return to the Leinster side for Saturday’s meeting with Glasgow at the RDS. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
A week out from Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final, Leo Cullen has welcomed the timely to return to fitness of Devin Toner and Robbie Henshaw. The duo will start in the champions’ last game at the RDS of the regular Guinness Pro14 season in Saturday afternoon’s meeting between the respective Conference leaders against Glasgow.
Toner and Henshaw have both been sidelines since Ireland’s opening Six Nations defeat to England in February, the former with an ankle injury which required surgery and the latter with a complicated dead leg. Having started at fullback that day, Henshaw returns in midfield, with Joe Tomane shifting to outside centre as one of only two survivors from last week, the other being Caelan Doris.
“We lost Mick Kearney at the weekend and Dev comes back, so to have that experience coming into the group at this stage of the season, and with huge games coming up, is important for us,” said Cullen.
“Robbie as well, he’s had a frustrating time of it since early in the Six Nations. Him coming back is well timed and it’s a great chance for guys again this week against a very difficult Glasgow team. They’re very physical and abrasive, particularly around the contact area, so it’ll be a good test for our guys.
“They got through all last week as well, which was important. It’s not like they’re just getting dropped back in for this game in a rushed manner. They got through all last week, did the matchday warm-up last week, and we’ve tried to set them up well so they can come back in and do well.
“Robbie gives us a great physical presence in the middle of the field on both sides of the ball. He’s growing all the time in terms of his distribution and his ability to play ball as well. The fact he has played 15 in the Six Nations just adds another dimension to his game.
“Dev has a ton of experience and the presence he brings. It’s more just his calmness in terms of how he leads the forwards in various aspects of the game. He has done it in big games for Leinster and Ireland, he has so much experience. He’s a key leader in the team for us and great to have him back now as well. They’ve trained well.”
It’s an interesting blend of experience and youth, with an all-international frontrow of Cian Healy, Seán Cronin and Tadhg Furlong, as Leinster balance the needs of providing game time for some frontliners while keeping players fresh for the knockout stages on both fronts.
“The squad is competitive,” said Cullen. “We had a less experienced team last week, who acquitted themselves pretty well. For us, it’ll be about how we managed possession tomorrow.
“It’s a great chance for guys this week with what’s ahead. There’s just so much riding on all the games at the moment. For us, in terms of where we finish in the conference there’s nothing really at stake, but there’s obviously lots going on in other games. They’re essentially knockout games.
“We’ve got a semi-final next week and hopefully we can progress there, but there’s another semi-final in the Pro14 as well. There are some huge games and everyone wants to be involved in the big games.
“We’ve used a lot of players, Will Connors is potentially number 56 of the season. That competition is important for us. We need the group to keep moving forward and thankfully we’ve built up a bit of a buffer in our conference so we’re able to manage the group well.”
Seán O’Brien will captain the side for most probably the last time and in what is likely to be his penultimate appearance at the RDS, with a Pro14 semi-final to come before his summer move to London Irish.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about so it is a little bit more special, firstly to lead out the lads, and secondly that it could be potentially my last game in the RDS. One I’m really looking forward to and should be a cracker of a game,” said O’Brien, who was also speaking at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland, one of Leinster’s charity partners, in Rathgar.
As his Leinster career nears an end, O’Brien added: “I’ve been at peace with it now for a while. There are seven or eight weeks in the season and that’s what I’m focusing on now and not really thinking about much else. That’s the exciting part of being in this group, we’re in the business end of the season and a lot of exciting games coming up. That’s at the forefront of my mind.”
Especially with the Toulouse semi-final looming?
“Yeah, absolutely. That’s been the case the last few weeks, to get back to myself as much as I can. I’m pretty happy with the last two games and my involvements in those two games. Hopefully I build on that again tomorrow and do well. I’m looking forward to it.”
Asked if his impending departure added motivation for him to finish his Leinster days on a high, O’Brien maintained: “You think about the group and how you can add as much value as you can and make sure you’re preparing them as best as possible regardless of whether you’re in the team or not. That’s what I want to do tomorrow first of all, to lead my example and make sure we’re in a good place going into those big games.”
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Jordan Larmour, Joe Tomane, Robbie Henshaw, Dave Kearney; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Ed Byrne, James Tracy, Michael Bent; Devin Toner, Jack Dunne; Josh Murphy, Seán O’Brien, Caelan Doris.
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Will Connors, Max Deegan, Hugh O’Sullivan, Ciarán Frawley, Adam Byrne.