URC preview: Difficult assignment ahead for Leinster away to Sharks

High-profile Springboks feature as Sharks know win would enhance playoff prospects

United Rugby Championship, Sharks v Leinster, Kings Park, Durban, Saturday, 5.15pm. Live on TG4 and Premier Sports 2

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has offered the province's supporters a glimpse into the future in naming several talented young players in the matchday 23 for what promises to be a difficult United Rugby Championship (URC) assignment against a Sharks side containing some high-profile Springboks.

Wexford's Brian Deeny, a former Ireland Under-20 international, will make his debut alongside Jack Dunne in the secondrow. Deeny is one of four Clontarf players – Alex Soroka, David Hawkshaw and Martin Moloney are the others – who if not in South Africa would have been playing for the club in their All Ireland League Division 1A semi-final against Cork Constitution this (Saturday) afternoon.

The other potential debutant is Belfast-born John McKee, who joined the Leinster academy from Campbell College, switching from prop to hooker. Another former underage international, the 22-year-old is named among the replacements.

Chris Cosgrave makes his first start for the province in his second cap at fullback while Jamie Osborne and Ciaran Frawley form a centre partnership. Tommy O'Brien is about to sit the honours paper in terms of his rugby education as he faces South African World Cup winner Makazole Mapimpi; temperament-wise, the young Leinster wing is likely to relish the challenge.


It is one of several interesting duels, another of which is how tighthead prop Thomas Clarkson, an excellent prospect, fares against Ox Nche, who started for the world champions in the Test series against the British & Irish Lions.

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi, tighthead Thomas du Toit, who leads the team, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, and Sevens star Werner Kok are other well-known faces, as is former Munster secondrow Gerbrandt Grobler.

The Sharks, who lie sixth in the table, know that a win is important to enhance their playoff prospects, and their form of late includes three sizable home wins against Zebre, the Dragons and the Lions while losing 21-5 in Edinburgh.

Cullen will be grateful for the presence of Irish internationals Andrew Porter and Ronan Kelleher for what will be a tough set piece tussle and the strong physical presence of captain, Rhys Ruddock in an athletic backrow that contains Scott Penny and Max Deegan.

Leinster need to be smart in contact and the collisions, use footwork, play the game at a high tempo and in defence, be aggressive in line speed and opportunistic at the breakdown. It’s a long list of requirements for a team that is short on experience and on the understanding that comes from playing together.

The net return may come in the form of performance rather than a victory.

SHARKS: A Fassi; W Kok, B Tapuai, M Louw, M Mapimpi; C Bosch, J Hendrikse; O Nche, B Mbonambi, T du Toit (capt); L Roux Roets, G Grobler; S Kolisi, H Venter, P Buthelezi. Replacements: K van Vuuren, N Mchunu, K Mchunu, R Hugo, J Labuschagne, S Notshe, G Williams, B Chamberlain. LEINSTER: C Cosgrave; T O'Brien, J Osborne, C Frawley, R O'Loughlin; H Byrne, N McCarthy; A Porter, R Kelleher, T Clarkson; B Deeny, J Dunne, R Ruddock (capt), S Penny, M Deegan. Replacements: J McKee, P Dooley, M Ala'alatoa, J Murphy, A Soroka, C Foley, D Hawkshaw, M Moloney. Referee: N Amashukeli (Georgia).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer