Formidable back-up cast underlines Leinster strength

Formidable back-up cast underlines Leinster strength
Scott Fardy

THE RDS promises to deliver more than the usual fare tomorrow for a Six Nations down-week.

With Ireland not playing until Sunday week, Leinster are the main rugby attraction in Dublin this weekend, with the visit of Cheetahs tomorrow afternoon.

The South Africans are one of the most exhilarating sides in the competition, boasting an attacking intent that few — with the notable exception of their hosts — can match.

But the home fans will have plenty to enjoy from their own team, with a host of Ireland stars — past, present, and future, on show.

If ever someone was prompted to highlight the strength of Leo Cullen’s squad, tomorrow’s team sheet would do the job.

Scott Fardy, a World Cup finalist, captains the side, with no fewer than 10 other internationals selected — not including the 10 others who remain in Ireland camp.

Rob Kearney starts at full back and he’s joined in a strong backline by brother Dave and Fergus McFadden.

Rob Kearney
Rob Kearney

Joe Tomane and Jimmy O’Brien start in midfield, with Ciarán Frawley selected ahead of Harry Byrne at outhalf, with Luke McGrath wearing the No 9 shirt.

The backrow is, as usual, chock full of talent, with Max Deegan starting at No8 one week after making his Ireland debut. He’s joined by former Ireland captain Rhys Ruddock and recent call-up Will Connors.

Fardy and Ross Molony man the second row, with Michael Bent, Peter Dooley, and new cap Rónan Kelleher completing the pack.

“The likes of Dave Kearney, Rob, Luke McGrath, Will Connors etc, who haven’t featured in the [Ireland] matchday squad, are back and we’ll get them to play this weekend,” said Stuart Lancaster, the Leinster senior coach.

“With no international rugby this weekend, it is an opportunity for people to come down and watch Leinster play.

A lot of young lads making their mark as international players will be playing and we’ve got some experienced players who missed out Rob Kearney, Fergus who want to prove a point as well.

“It is a big game for us and we’re hoping for a lot of support.”

Leinster will be looking to maintain their 100% start to the season across both domestic and European competition.

They are 10 from 10 in the Guinness PRO14, with a 16 point lead over tomorrow’s visitors — who currently sit third in Conference A, with Ulster wedged in between.

The South Africans are one of the few sides to have beaten Leinster in recent seasons, and made a decent fist of things on their last visit to the RDS, last year, in atrocious conditions.

Coach Franco Smith has moved on to the Italian national team since then, but they’ve not lost their attacking threat since, with their 44 try haul only bettered by Leinster across both conferences.

“They’re very good at unstructured rugby, very good on turnover, very good if given loose ball because they’ve got pace clearly, the way they score tries on the wings,” Lancaster said.

“They’re coming on the back of two good wins. They are third in the conference, a very physical South African team, so they’re not to be under-estimated at all.”

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, J O’Brien, J Tomane, D Kearney; C Frawley, L McGrath; P Dooley, R Kelleher, M Bent, R Molony, S Fardy (c), R Ruddock, W Connors, M Deegan.

Replacements: S Cronin, M Milne, R Salanoa, R Baird, S Penny; J Gibson-Park, H Byrne, C Kelleher.

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