Turner in key role for Leinster
Necessity being the mother of invention, and with only 10 fit backs to select from in the absence of Brian O'Driscoll and their two recognised outhalves, Leinster have been obliged to pick something of a makeshift backline featuring four players who are, ostensibly, fullbacks for tomorrow's Interprovincial opener at home to Connacht.
Having been tried briefly with some success at outhalf, Girvan Dempsey is perhaps the most fortunate of the four number 15s to have his favoured jersey. Meantime, Peter McKenna reverts to outside centre and Gordon D'Arcy to the wing, while 26-year-old Australian Nathan Turner forms a new halfback partnership with close-season Munster recruit Brian O'Meara.
By comparison, the pack is pretty stable, with Emmet Byrne now back in the front row after just three appearances last November in an injury bedevilled year, and the prodigal Eric Miller returning to the back row after his Leicester and Ulster odysseys for his first game with his native province in five seasons. He is picked ahead of Declan O'Brien and Trevor Brennan after injuries delayed their pre-season involvement.
However, with only three players (Dempsey, McKenna and Shane Horgan) surviving from the end-ofcampaign win over Leicester last January, it is - as Matt Williams admitted - a much changed backline. "We're skinny in the outside three too so it made selection of the backline very brief."
"It is a very tough gig on Nathan (Turner)," conceded Williams of Leinster's unprojected Australian recruit whom he also described as at one stage rated ahead of Matt Burke. Selected for both the Emerging Wallabies and Australian A side (neither of which he participated in), the 26-year-old played rugby league with the Queensland Crushers and then the Oldham Bears before missing the last two seasons with a broken foot which became infected.
"He's a quality player. To come back to the game after five years away in a changed position after the changes in the game puts a great deal of pressure on him but in time he'll be a very fine acquisition."
Williams revealed that while Mark McHugh was considered for outhalf, the coach considered the young St Mary's player to be a more effective centre, and that there had to be a degree of doing what's best for the individual concerned. "You can't knock around a young player's confidence by playing him out of position." He's joined on the bench by young winger James Norton.
Liam Toland has been retained as captain, "for his outstanding leadership, which is more than can be said about his motorbikes. He's an integral part of the team who has respect from all."
Williams also revealed that the diagnosis on O'Driscoll's `hamstring tear' has changed slightly, in that it is as much a back problem, although the prognosis as to when he might return has seemingly become more vague.
The so-called `Donnybrook Experience' will move up another gear according to Leinster's new press officer, Tom McCormack. Car parking facilities have been improved by the availability of Old Belvedere's ground in Anglesea Road for home games, which this season are cast in stone at 7.00 on Friday nights (barring television demands). In addition, there are half-time prizes and the stimulus of a choreographed team of dancers.
Munster have been installed as the 4/5 favourites to win the title for the third year in a row by Paddy Powers bookmakers, with Ulster second favourites at 2/1, Leinster 7/2 and Connacht at 50/1.