Ruddock: Time for fringe players to stake claim for place

LUKE FITZGERALD will seek to put his World Cup disappointment behind him tonight when he takes his place in an unfamiliar and inexperienced Leinster side which begins its RaboDirect Pro12 campaign away to the Ospreys (7.05pm).

The Ireland international, left out of Declan Kidney’s 30-man panel for the Rugby World Cup last week, will start at inside-centre in a backline where Isa Nacewa is the only other household name. Out-half Matt Berquist and number nine John Cooney make their debuts.

So too will former Connacht lock Damian Browne while Fionn Carr and Jamie Hagan are set to make only their second Leinster appearances four and two years respectively after their first having resigned from the western province over the summer.

Rhys Ruddock captains the team from the back row and the 20-year-old accepts that the six-week absence of 14 Irish internationals represents a huge opportunity for Leinster’s younger brigade to make their mark by impressing coach Joe Schmidt.

“After that, if you don’t take your opportunity you might not get one for a while,” Ruddock pointed out. “I’m just really looking forward to playing again. It’s a good opportunity and I’m looking to enjoy it as well.”

The Ospreys will themselves be hampered by the loss of a sizeable international contingent – eight players in their case – but Scott Johnson has still been able to call on an experienced and capable bunch, particularly in the pack.

Eight of the home team at the Liberty Stadium have played for their country, as opposed to four for the visitors, but the disparity in the number of cumulative international caps earned emphasises the gap in experience and quality with 267 for the Ospreys to Leinster’s 29.

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; F Carr, E O’Malley, L Fitzgerald, D Kearney; M Berquist, J Cooney; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, J Hagan; D Browne, D Toner; K McLaughlin, D Ryan, R Ruddock.

OSPREYS: R Fussell; K Phillips, A Bishop, A Beck, H Dirksen; D Biggar, R Webb; D Jones, M Davies, C Griffiths; I Gough, I Evans; T Smith, J Tipuric, J Thomas.

ULSTER (v Glasgow): A D’Arcy, C Gilroy, D Cave, N Spence, I Whitten, I Humphreys, P Marshall; P McAllister, A Kyriacou, J Cronin, L Stevenson, D Tuohy, P Wannenburg, W Faloon, C Henry, capt.

GLASGOW (v Leinster): S Hogg, T Seymour, R Dewey, T Nathan, C Shaw, D Weir, C Gregor, J Welsh, P MacArthur. M Cusack, T Ryder, R Harley, capt, J Eadie, C Fusaro, R Wilson.

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