Strong Leinster line-up ready to face down potent Bulls threat

Sexton, Ringrose and Ryan aiming to hit ground running against Currie Cup winners

Johnny Sexton and Leo Cullen: ‘We’re looking forward to the season now and to getting going, Jake White is a wily old coach with plenty of experience and I’m sure with plenty of tricks up his sleeve,’ said Cullen. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Johnny Sexton and Leo Cullen: ‘We’re looking forward to the season now and to getting going, Jake White is a wily old coach with plenty of experience and I’m sure with plenty of tricks up his sleeve,’ said Cullen. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Leinster v Vodacom Bulls, Aviva Stadium. Kick-off: 5.15pm. (On TV: Live on TG4. Premier 1 and URC TV).

While missing their quartet of British & Irish Lions, Leinster rock up to the Aviva Stadium for their first competitive game of the season relatively locked and loaded, which is perhaps just as well given they’re encountering the pick of the match-fit South African sides.

It’s an ill-wind and all that, and having been overlooked for the Lions, Johnny Sexton, James Ryan and Garry Ringrose are able to hit the ground running in their province’s season opener, which is a particularly rarity for Sexton.

James Lowe and Rhys Ruddock also having missed last season’s run-in through injury, the side is further strengthened with others who were involved in the home summer Tests against Japan and the USA, namely Hugo Keenan, Josh van der Flier. By all accounts, Ruddock and Doris have been tearing it up in training.

Leinster’s starting side features a dozen internationals, with another six on the bench. Nevertheless they are bound to be rusty and, since they last played a competitive game, the Bulls have been playing on an almost weekly basis since mid-June.

Having lost two of their dozen regular season matches in the Currie Cup, the Bulls beat Western Province in the semi-final before routing the Sharks by 44-10 in the final two weeks ago.

As to be expected of any Jake White side, the Bulls’ strengths are in their set-piece, maul, straight running – especially in a potent-looking back row and midfield – defence and kicking game.

“I think they’ll test us around set piece in particular,” admitted Leo Cullen.

“In and around the contact area they’re very aggressive both sides of the ball, a pretty direct midfield pairing in [Harold] Vorster and Lionel Mapoe as well and then some of the ball carrying back-rowers that they have as well that we’re familiar with, the likes of [Marcell] Coetzee, but [Elrigh] Louw as well, even [Arno] Botha who was with Munster.

“So those guys will know us pretty well, I’m sure. They’re very aggressive carriers and aggressive around the ruck as well and pose a lot of threat at the ball as well, so it’s making sure that we’re nice and accurate around that area.”

An understandably wary Cullen summed it up neatly.

“It’s exciting, a lot of unknowns now, a lot of unknowns. We’re looking forward to the season now and to getting going, Jake White is a wily old coach with plenty of experience and I’m sure with plenty of tricks up his sleeve tomorrow.”

Inspired by a 20,000 or so crowd at a venue where they’ve lost just once in their last 23 matches, Leinster should have enough in them to shake off the cobwebs.

LEINSTER: H Keenan; R O’Loughlin, G Ringrose, C Frawley, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), L McGrath; A Porter, D Sheehan, M Ala’alatoa, R Molony, J Ryan, R Ruddock, J van der Flier, C Doris. Replacements: J Tracy, E Byrne, C Healy, R Baird, M Deegan, J Gibson-Park, R Byrne, J Osborne.

BULLS: D Kriel, C Hendricks, L Mapoe, H Vorster, M Tambwe, J Goosen, Z Burger; G Steenekamp, B du Plessis, M Smith, W Steenkamp, R Nortje, M Coetzee (Capt), A Botha, E Louw. Replacements: J van Zyl, S Matanzima, J van Rooyen, J Swanepoel, J du Plessis, K Johannes, C Smith, S Gans.

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland).

Betting (Paddy Power): 1/20 Leinster, 45/1 Draw, 11/1 Bulls. Handicap odds (Leinster -22pts) 10/11 Leinster, 22/1 Draw, 10/11 Bulls.

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