Leo Cullen couldn’t help but cast his mind back to this week two years ago.
Tomorrow: RDS, 1pm
Referee: Marius Mitrea
TV: Sky Sports
Bet: Leinster 1/10 Warriors 6/1 Draw 25/1
Another round five Champions Cup clash. The RDS, as it will be when they face Glasgow tomorrow, once again the venue.
And, as was the case when he announced his side yesterday, so much of the debate pre-match focused on youth.
That’s where the stories diverge.
If it was the presence on the teamsheet of Jordan Larmour for this latest outing that caught the eye this time, then it was the decision to hand out half-a-dozen European starts to a bunch of greenhorns against Bath in January 2016 that created the stir.
Without a win in the opening four games, Cullen opted for a new direction.
Peter Dooley, James Tracy and Tadhg Furlong made for a frighteningly young front row. Ross Molony packed down just behind them. Linking the forwards and backs was the callow Luke McGrath at scrum-half. Standing three slots away from him was Garry Ringrose.
Their promotions were met with more than the odd grumble.
“When the teams were announced I remember hearing comments or reading comments about how I was disrespecting the competition for picking young players for their first starts in Europe,” the Leinster head coach explained.
That was an answer offered in response to a query yesterday about a Glasgow side weakened by a glut of absences – some due to injury, others simply rested – but it reveals much more about the progress Leinster have made in 24 months.
That was Cullen’s first season.
He had been thrust into the hot seat by the club’s decision to jettison Matt O’Connor and the failure to source an experienced replacement. He assumed the controls as a virtual novice and on the back of a disruptive World Cup.
It made for a tough start to the Cullen era. Their game against Bath that day was the only one of the six in their pool that Leinster wouldn’t lose but Cullen knew that considerable groundwork had been done for better days to come.
Fast forward just ten months and two of those rookies – Ringrose and Tracy – were making senior Ireland debuts against Canada. Another Leinster pair, made up of McGrath and Leavy, did likewise and Joey Carbery doubled up on his first.
“That was as nervous as I have ever been before a game coaching or a playing,” said Cullen. “How those young guys go is important to me and to the club. We want to try and do what’s right by them. It’s great to see the progression of those players.”
Few have flown so high so quickly, or majestically, as Larmour.
Isa Nacewa spoke yesterday about a player with “no boundaries to the way he thinks”. This will be his full European debut on the back of runs off the bench in December but he will be surrounded by men of considerable more experience.
“It’s no different to when any guy is debuting in any game we’re playing,” said Nacewa. “The guys around them have to step up and show some leadership, take the pressure onto their own shoulders so that (the younger players) can just go out and do their job.”
Larmour’s nod leaves Rob Kearney wearing the No. 23 jersey. Some will deem it a demotion for the veteran but with Leinster facing Montpellier in France just six days later it amounts to common sense more than anything.
Leinster have the resources, they may as well use them.
It’s that line of thinking which sees James Lowe join Larmour in the XV. Unregistered for Europe on his arrival late last year, the Kiwi winger has made it impossible for the brains trust to leave him out with three superb PRO14 displays.
His inclusion, and that of the Australian Scott Fardy in the pack, has cost scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park his place in the 23 due to the tournament rules limiting sides to just three players of Antipodean allegiance.
Nacewa’s Fijian links have exempted him in that regard.
Cullen intimated that Leinster may explore any possible loopholes to that regulation but they knew this conundrum was likely when they signed Fardy having already welcomed Gobson-Park and committed to Lowe.
“It’s not the ideal one,” Cullen accepted. “At some point Jamison becomes qualified (for Ireland) after the three years, so that obviously changes the dynamic a small bit, and James the year after. It is what it is.” Minor problems in the greater scheme of things for a Leinster side with one foot in the quarter-finals and one revelling in such an abundance of choice in personnel. And a long way from the low point this very weekend two years ago.
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